Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Too Old to Drive??

When does the term "Senior Citizen" equate to the phrase "too old to drive"?

For a Schaumburg, IL man, described by the Daily Herald as being in his 80's, the answer to that question might be, "At 4:45 PM yesterday, February 21, 2012."

That's when the unnamed gentleman drove his minivan through the front door and into the lobby of the Schaumburg Township District Library.

The man and his wife were taken to the hospital suffering minor cuts and bruises. Luckily, no patrons or employees of the library were injured in the accident. Significant damage was done to the building, though, and crews were needed to shore up the entranceway.

I've been to this library many times. The main doors shown in the pictures above open onto an enclosed foyer that ends at a second set of doors leading into the lobby. The lobby itself is long and wide and features a small but much used cafe off to one side. Benches line both sides of the lobby, providing resting spots for patrons waiting to be picked up by family or friends.

This is a busy library, especially in the afternoon and early evening when mothers with children and teens researching homework projects flock to the well-stocked reading rooms. It amazes me that no one else was injured when the 2000-lb. minivan plunged through the doorway.

And that brings me to the point of this blog.

We've all read of accidents involving elderly drivers, accidents where pedestrians were killed or injured through no fault of their own. It seems like in every case, the driver either stepped on the gas rather than the break or failed to complete an intended turn.

TV, radio, and newspapers report such tragedies when they occur. But the public rarely hears or sees follow-up stories that tell us what happened to the driver, what penalty he or she had to pay under the law for causing the accident. Are these drivers prosecuted for killing or maiming innocent people? I doubt they're sent to prison, but do they at least lose their licenses? Do they face probation? Must they in some way make amends for what they've done?

I've heard it said by some that the guilt these elderly drivers experience over the accident is more than enough punishment, that they shouldn't be arrested for vehicular manslaughter or face other types of criminal charges in less serious cases. I've also heard people say, "You have to understand how difficult it is for older people to give up driving a car", as if understanding should lead to forgiveness of their actions.

I'm not a cold-hearted person, but I'm not sure understanding or forgiveness equals justice. And here I don't speak lightly. I had elderly parents who insisted on driving long after they'd lost the physical and mental abilities to drive safely. I did a lot of their driving for them, ferrying them to the store, to church, to the doctor. But there were times when I'd call on the phone and they'd not be home. That's when I'd hold my breath and pray that they -- and everyone around them -- stayed safe.

And let me tell you, they had a few close calls. Once my father couldn't quite make the turn in a parking lot and ended up nose-to-nose with a store's glass window. Once my mother drove herself to the hairdresser and, while parking her car, hit the car in the space next to her. Neither time was anyone hurt, but neither time did either of my parents take responsibility and say, "It was my fault." They were too afraid to admit they were no longer good drivers, so they made excruciatingly poor excuses as to why these accidents and near-accidents occurred.

I believe if people claim they're capable of driving, they should have to prove it. We require teens to take a driving course and pass a driving test in order to get a license. Why? Because we know young people are often impulsive and don't make good decisions. We do our best to teach them how to safely handle a car, how to think before putting their foot on the gas pedal, how to be responsible for their actions behind the wheel.

I believe a similar approach should be taken with people over the age of seventy. I believe senior citizens should not only have to pass a written driving test every three years, but also an on-the-road driving test. I also think a doctor's note stating they're healthy enough to drive should be included in the requirements.

I don't think asking this of senior citizens would be unfair. I'm over the age of sixty myself, and I'd be more than willing to prove my driving capabilities to the DMV. I'm also willing to give up my license when the day comes that I can no longer safely operate a vehicle.

I'd much rather lose my license that way then lose it after killing someone in an accident.

How about you?

****************** (Photos courtesy of ABC7, The Daily Herald, and Fire Rescue on FB)

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