Looking the other way doesn’t do us a favor
It happened again the other day, as it does pretty much weekly. A senior citizen motorist drove into a building. This time it was at the DSW shoe store in Robinson Town Centre, and two people were hospitalized.
Police say the driver, 67-year-old Laverne Dean, was attempting to park in a handicap spot but inexplicably jammed on the gas pedal and plowed deep into the store. The township police chief, Dale Vietmeier, told KDKA-TV that the only thing that prevented Dean from making a more complete tour of the store’s interior was the structural support pole she slammed into 30 feet inside the building.
Two people were hit by Dean’s Cadillac, a 52-year-old woman who suffered serious leg injuries and her 13-year-old godson, who also required hospital care. The store was a shambles. No telling how much it will cost to fix the damage.
What charges will Dean face for creating such mayhem? None, it appears.
At least that’s what the police chief told a reporter after the crash. Our guess is that had the offending driver been an 18-year-old kid who lost control of his car, he’d be headed to court in the near future.
But there’s a bigger issue here, and it’s one that our state lawmakers have steadfastly refused to even address: Something needs to be done to make sure older drivers who are no longer capable of safely operating motor vehicles are taken off our roads.
Pennsylvania has one of the “grayest” populations in the country. People are living longer, and driving longer, than they did just a few decades ago. And studies are showing that older drivers, particularly the very elderly, are increasingly a cause for concern.
Doctors and family members should be the first line of defense in this area, with doctors reporting their worries about the ability of their elderly patients to continue driving, and family members, who are closest to the situation, pulling the keys from their parents when they notice a significant decline in driving ability. But family members quite often seem to abdicate their responsibilities. “We don’t want to take away Dad’s independence,” is something that’s often heard. Well, that sure beats consoling Dad after a round of demolition derby at the local grocery store or, even worse, after he has mistaken the gas pedal for the brake and careened through a group of pedestrians. Better to take those keys away and drive Dad to the store or a barber appointment a couple times a week.
If our state lawmakers were a little less concerned about their own political survival – they’re afraid of angering older voters – and more concerned about doing what’s best for all their constituents, they would be putting into place a program that would require enhanced screening and/or retesting of drivers past a certain age.
If a person exhibits adequate reflexes, eyesight and driving skills, they would have nothing to worry about.
If not, they should not be allowed to pose a threat to themselves and others.
The “Look over there!” argument we regularly hear in response to this proposal is that “young people are worse.” That may be true in many instances. But as we have stated many times before, the big difference between old drivers and young drivers is that the youngsters – most of them, anyway – will get better with the passage of time. The senior citizens will not.
People who drive into buildings or run over pedestrians typically fall into three categories: drunken drivers, criminals fleeing police and senior citizens. Those in the first two groups are held accountable for their actions.
So should those in the third.