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Brooks Schuelke
Brooks Schuelke
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McCain's Straight Talk Express Crashed! Should We Take Away The Keys of the Elderly?

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After reading yesterday’s post about the crash of the Straight Talk Express, someone jokingly asked me whether the elderly should be driving. In reality, at the time of the wreck, McCain obviously wasn’t driving the bus, in fact, he wasn’t even on it. But the joke does raise a serious issue: Should we take away the keys of the elderly?

A few months ago, I was at church, which is next to the headquarters of the Texas Trial Lawyer’s Association, and I watched as an elderly driver attempted to park, didn’t stop, and hit the TTLA building (I’m sure all of you defense lawyers enjoy that). My wife and I also live across the street from a different church. Time and time again we have watched as older drivers attempt to parallel park and hit another car. No one was hurt in any of these instances, but the data tells us that injuries are a problem.

Study after study finds that older drivers are more likely to be in car wrecks and, once in them, are more likely to be killed. And the reasons for both are plentiful. Some of the factors for wrecks are:

1. As we age, our vision can decrease. An 80 year old needs three times more light to see as well as a 20 year old. Included in vision issues is the fact that glare increasingly becomes an obstacle for older drivers over time. Reflected sunlight and nighttime headlights of other cars create glare.

2. Reaction time increases during unexpected events (e.g., in response to a child dodging into traffic). Slow reactions also include hand-to-eye coordination and the delay it will take to hit the brakes or steer to avoid an accident.

3. Perception (what color is the traffic light), judgment (deciding how to react, go, or stop), and executing an appropriate action (step on the gas or the brake) can all become problematic as we age.

4. Range of vision decreases as adults become more dependent on eyeglasses. Bi-focals and tri-focals don’t allow for good peripheral vision. These types of lenses can make focusing and re-focusing from near to far and back again require more time. These few seconds can cause an accident.

5. Hearing loss can cause the inability to respond to sounds, or can cause older drivers to become startled or frightened. Background noise, such as traffic sounds, environmental distractions, or the radio, blends with conversation, alerts, or warnings given from passengers.

And older drivers are more likely to die because they are generally more frail and susceptible to injury.

But what do we do about it? Few things can be as hard as asking a loved one to give up his or her keys, which is, in many cases, his or her freedom. As one woman was quoted, “You can take my house, but don’t take my keys.”

I don’t have any answers, but there are several sources that address how to handle this difficult situation.

As nation ages, elderly drivers present greater risks on the road

Deciding when elderly drivers should turn over the keys

How to keep elderly drivers safe

If you’re faced with this situation, I hope you can find some solutions. And if you’ve dealt with this situation, please let us know how you handled it.