This week’s drive by an 86-year-old man through an outdoor Los Angeles farmers market, killing 10, renewed the perennial debate over elderly drivers. As the head of the California Highway Patrol called for stricter testing of drivers over 75, sons and daughters told the Los Angeles Times of hiding keys and disabling engines to keep their aging parents – hard of hearing, thickly lensed, slow to react – off the road.
In California there is no provision for reporting a driver simply on the basis of advanced age, because state law considers that discrimination. If the Department of Motor Vehicles receives a report about an unsafe driver, the agency sends the driver a letter, saying a complaint was received and encouraging safer driving habits. If the report is filed by a physician, police officer or immediate family member, the law requires that the driver be retested. Commissioner D.O. “Spike” Helmick of the California Highway Patrol called on the Legislature to consider requiring motorists older than 75 to pass a behind-the-wheel test as a condition of renewing their licenses. “At some point, other people have the right to have some safety out there,” Helmick said.
Vincent Polito remembered worrying that his 88-year-old father, Frank, would hurt someone. Two years ago, he took action. “I don’t think he will ever forgive me for selling his car,” said Vincent, 60. His father had been in two crashes in a year and could no longer read street signs. “It got to the point where there was an argument and he was totally against it…. I had to do it to save him and to save other people.”
Many elderly people expressed fears that the Santa Monica deaths would lead to unreasonable restrictions on their driving privileges, compounding the hardships and indignities of advanced age.