Local News

Impairment a concern among older drivers

Posted August 21, 2009

— Researchers say there is a growing concern about driver safety among an aging population, which accounts for the second most number of wrecks after teens.

"The main issue is not age, in terms of safety," said Bill Hall, a researcher with the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center. "It's functional ability."

Hall says better screening is needed to help determine any potential impairments that should be investigated further and see if there should be any restrictions placed on a person's license to drive.

Hall says that older drivers tend to stay off highways in favor of secondary roads but that is not always better. Those roads can have more congestion and more distractions, he said.

According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, people 65 years or older made up 14 percent of all traffic fatalities in the United States in 2006.

In the same year, about 8 percent of people in the same age group were injured in wrecks.

Raleigh police have not said what might have been the factor in a fatal wreck Wednesday, in which 83-year-old Geraldine Deitz was charged with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle and passing a stopped school bus.

Investigators said 6-year-old Ashley Ramos-Hernandez was hit while she was getting off her bus and crossing North Hills Drive, near Hillock Drive. Deitz said she did not see the school bus warning lights or a stop sign, though witnesses said they did.

Although it's unclear if age or an impairment contributed to the wreck, many older people say they would submit to more screening to prevent such wrecks.

"I just hope at least somebody will tell me if I don't discover myself that I shouldn't be driving," 77-year-old Leonard Mercer said.

Deitz's husband told WRAL News Friday that his wife loves children and is having a very difficult time dealing with Wednesday's wreck.

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  • jprime Aug 24, 10:48 a.m.

    "Just remember one day your going to be old too..."

    I welcome my wife or family members to come and take my car away if I am ever at a point where I threaten other people or myself.

  • jprime Aug 24, 10:46 a.m.

    Yesterday I was pulling into triangle town center behind a man who may have been in his eighties. We were in the turning lane off of capital blvd. He was the first car to go after the light changed, and as he turned I was shocked to see him heading staight for the oncoming traffic lanes (people in triangle town center waiting to leave). He actually drove into the oncoming traffic turn lane, then realized where he was and jumped the median back in front of me.

  • Diabolical Aug 21, 7:55 p.m.

    Just remember one day your going to be old too...

  • paulinnc Aug 21, 7:15 p.m.

    It's so important for older folks to recognize what's going on as their limitations grow and to restrict their activities accordingly. Families must step up if their older members refuse to recognize reality, when the time comes that their driving is becoming dangerous. In 1986 I watched as a car with 3 old women (each at least 75 years old, and all sitting in the front seat) jumped the curb and hit a tree at about 25 miles per hour. I called an ambulance and waited with them. I'll never forget the crying and wailing or how broken and battered they were (none had been wearing seatbelts and one was wedged beneath the dashboard on the floor of the passenger side with multi[ple broken bones). I'm sure the driver and her relatives never forgave themselves for the damage she did to herself and her friends.

  • Southern Girl Aug 21, 6:56 p.m.

    How did this driver obtain the last license? Was she given an eye test? Did she pass a written test? OR, did the DMV just mail her a renewal license in the mail?

    All of this should be determined.

    The State might be negligent in all of this. Maybe this person should NOT have even been issued a license to drive.

    How about her family. Where are they? Do they not care that perhaps she should not have been driving?

    Lots of questions. Let's hear the answers.