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Too young to die, too old to drive?

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

EDITORIAL : The argument usually arises when someone in their sixth or seventh decade is involved in a crash that hurts someone else, but this one is unique: An 86-year-old North Jersey woman was killed when she was run over by her rolling car.

Elsa Jenisch of Oakland got out of her 1999 Dodge Caravan in her driveway when it began rolling backward, authorities said. Instead of trying to get out of the way, they said, Jenisch reached in through the driver’s side door to try and stop the minivan.

Jerry DeMarco Publisher/Editor


I’ll leave the details to other publications, which seem to have no trouble sensationalizing a tragedy. But we have to ask the question: Should an 86-year-old person be driving?


It’s such an emotional issue, and understandably so. But when does the safety of the tribe — and the golden drivers themselves — trump individual freedom?

The numbers don’t lie: We’re living longer. Credit better diets and nutrition, increased exercise, advances in medication. Our elders are whacking tennis balls around, even lifting weights.

Monkey with their mobility, though, and there’s hell to pay. Can’t blame ’em, either. It’s insulting to someone who’s gotten around on his or her own just fine all these years.

But it is a fact that age affects critical measures, including speed and distance. More importantly, reaction time lengthens. It’s only natural — same as the increase in wisdom and experience. Older people are also more likely to be taking one medication or other for a physical condition.

So a driver in her mid-80s sees her car rolling and, in a split-second, has to react. I don’t even want to imagine those final moments.

Maybe I simply wish we could better protect our elders. Maybe I’m worried that my own insistence someday may come back to bite me on the gas.

I just don’t understand how rational thought goes out the window like a cigarette butt from an I-ROC.

This is what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says:

*The only group more dangerous than senior citizens — statistically speaking — is teenagers.

*The death rate per mile traveled for drivers over 85 is four times that of the 30-59 age group.

*They are also more likely to die in accidents. Their bodies are older, frailer.

I’m not saying cut everyone off at a certain age. I’m 52, and I’ve met people younger who shouldn’t be on the road.

But we have to apply some rational thought here.

If someone you love insists on driving at an advanced age, be gentle, caring, supportive. But make it your business to assess his or her ability to handle any number of surprises behind the wheel. Go on little trips. Pay close attention for signs of lethargy or tiredness. Be entirely honest with yourself first and then — again, gently — with the one you love.

Remember: The day is going to come when you’ll want someone to treat you with dignity and respect. So show as much as you can — and then some.

But be sure that you DON’T have that talk until you’re ready to meet their traveling needs, from errands to appointments (Don’t forget social calls). You also have to meet their in-home needs, because they’ll be spending more time there.

You can’t do it all, of course, so others are going to have to pitch in. That includes the errands and the visits, as well as quick check-ins.

It’s not only rational. It’s the loving thing to do.


AAA has a quiz for drivers over 55. Go to aaafoundation.org/quizzes, or call 407.444.7913. Also check out: seniordrivers.org.

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