Local News

Impairment a concern among older drivers

Posted August 21, 2009 5:47 p.m. EDT
Updated August 21, 2009 10:32 p.m. EDT

— 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.