Car Trouble:
                   Older Drivers Pose
                   Growing Risk on Roads
                   As Their Numbers Rise
                   ---
                   They Crash More Than Many,
                   Yet Taking Away Wheels
                   Leads to Isolation, Anger
                   ---
                   A Man Runs Over His Wife
                   By Joan E. Rigdon

                 10/29/1993
                   The Wall Street Journal
                   PAGE A1
                   (Copyright (c) 1993, Dow Jones & Co., Inc.)

                   By the year 2020, the number of licensed drivers over age 75 will more
                   than double to 17.5 million. Of these, well over half will suffer from
                   cataracts, dementia or nervous disorders that can make their hands
                   tremble on steering wheels. Eighty percent will take one or more
                   prescription medicines, including some that make them dizzy or drowsy.

                   As a group, they will drive an estimated 84 billion miles a year.

                   The potential for disaster is already evident. While older drivers as a
                   group aren't nearly as dangerous as teenagers, their accident rates slowly
                   begin rising at age 60, and start rocketing after age 75. After age 85, they
                   are involved in accidents more than four times as often as the safest
                   drivers, those age 50 to 59, on a mile-for-mile basis. And when they are
                   in accidents, drivers over age 85 are 15 times as likely to die as drivers in
                   their 40s, according to a Wall Street Journal computer analysis of the
                   Department of Transportation's fatal-accident data for 1990 (see
                   accompanying illustration -- WSJ Oct. 29, 1993).

                   Elderly drivers have played a role in some horrific recent accidents. Last
                   year, 75-year-old Stella Maychick mowed down an afternoon crowd in
                   New York City's Washington Square Park, killing four people and
                   injuring 27 others. (Her lawyer says her car raced out of control and that
                   her age wasn't a factor.) In July, 83-year-old Meyer Holtzin lost control
                   of his car in a supermarket parking lot in Philadelphia; according to
                   witnesses and a police diagram, he hit a tree, careened through the air,
                   and landed at a bus stop, striking three children waiting there with their
                   father and killing one of them, six-year-old Bruce Ferguson Jr. Mr.
                   Holtzin couldn't be reached and his lawyer declined comment.

                   "We need some type of mandatory testing every five or six years," says
                   the senior Bruce Ferguson, who watched as the car slammed into his
                   three young children with such force that they were flung across a street.
                   His daughters, ages four and eight, were injured but survived.

                   Without widespread retesting for seniors, "we're just going to slaughter
                   more people on the highways," adds Marian Lewis, a former state
                   representative in Florida, where about 18% of the population is over 65.

                   Yet lawmakers and transportation officials have done little to put the
                   brakes on this deadly trend. Many states allow even their oldest drivers
                   to simply renew by mail. Requiring elderly drivers to be retested could
                   run afoul of federal antidiscrimination laws, says the powerful seniors
                   lobby, the American Association of Retired Persons. And any restrictions
                   smack of cruelty toward elderly people who might, without cars, become
                   shut-ins. As Evelyn Von Pohle, an 81-year-old retired accountant from
                   Longwood, Fla., says, "I'd rather be pushing up daisies than live without a
                   car."

                   Of course, not all older drivers are dangerous. On average, drivers over
                   the age of 65 still are involved in fewer accidents per mile than those
                   under 30. And some seniors retain excellent driving skills well beyond
                   their 80s. Others compensate for failing health by changing their driving
                   habits. They quit driving at night, on busy roads and during rush hours.

                   Trouble is, seniors can't compensate for problems they may not even be
                   aware of, such as slower reaction times and senility. Nor can they correct
                   for the side effects of medications.

                   Salvatore Starvaggi, an 88-year-old former truck driver, for one, was on
                   nine different medications last year when he ran down his wife and killed
                   her in a Wayne, N.J., shopping-mall parking lot while trying to pick her
                   up, according to a National Transportation Safety Board accident report.
                   One of the medications was for senility, two caused drowsiness and two
                   specifically urged caution when driving because they may cause dizziness.
                   Mr. Starvaggi had also crashed into a parked car just seven months
                   earlier. Yet after the accident that killed his wife, he told police he had
                   never had any trouble driving. He couldn't be reached.

                   Across town at another mall that day, 82-year-old Ralph Naimoli plowed
                   into three pedestrians in the parking lot, landing all of them in the hospital.
                   Even though one of the pedestrians ended up on the hood of his
                   Oldsmobile Delta 88, and even though the car also careened into a tree,
                   "I continue to drive," Mr. Naimoli said last month.

                   A patchwork of weak state laws makes it almost impossible to weed out
                   potentially dangerous drivers like these in advance. Thirteen states allow
                   drivers to renew their licenses by mail for up to 15 years at a time, and at
                   least a dozen more have loopholes allowing mail renewals indefinitely.
                   Just seven states, including Oregon and California, require doctors to
                   report conditions that impair a person's ability to drive. And only three
                   states require road tests beyond the initial one to get a license.

                   Dangerous Drivers

                   The states with the largest elderly populations are among the most lax.
                   Florida, with the nation's largest proportion of seniors, allows drivers to
                   renew by mail for up to six years at a time. Pennsylvania, with the
                   third-highest percentage of seniors, allows most drivers to renew by mail
                   until they die, unless they are chosen in a lottery for re-testing or their
                   doctor reports them to state officials for conditions that may impair
                   driving ability.

                   What's more, no state revokes a driver's license on the spot, even if the
                   driver kills someone. State-law enforcers typically must wait until the
                   driver is convicted of a crime such as criminally negligent homicide, which
                   usually only happens in cases involving drunk drivers or drivers who leave
                   an accident scene.

                   Revoking an elderly person's license, though, isn't always the answer. For
                   some seniors, a license isn't just a means to mobility, but a passport to
                   independence -- the last stop before a nursing home.

                   "I'm so depressed right now it's pathetic," says Charles Marsh, a
                   68-year-old retired Army major from Garden Grove, Calif. "I can't go
                   any place. I can't see anything or do anything." Until a few months ago,
                   Mr. Marsh's pride and joy was his black 1983 Cadillac, which he
                   washed weekly and drove every day. There were bingo games and
                   cookouts with his Elk's lodge, meetings of the local Chamber of
                   Commerce, and weekly jaunts to the movies to see action flicks.

                   But six months ago, Mr. Marsh had to give up driving when he lost feeling
                   in his feet because of diabetes. Now, he is a virtual shut-in, reduced to
                   watching "Star Trek: The Next Generation" on TV and eating whatever
                   the Meals-on-Wheels volunteers bring him. So desperate is he to get out
                   that he allows a friend to use his beloved car on the condition that the
                   friend occasionally take him, too. But sometimes the friend takes off with
                   the car for hours. "He takes advantage of me," says a frustrated Mr.
                   Marsh. But "if I say anything to him, he'll just walk away -- and that will
                   leave me with nobody at all."

                   Refusing to Quit

                   So awful is the prospect of loneliness and isolation that some seniors
                   refuse to quit driving long after they should. Alven Bertelsen, 88, of
                   Eugene, Ore., had his license suspended in January, after he suffered a
                   slight stroke. (Stroke victims in Oregon have their licenses suspended and
                   must be retested to renew.) His 86-year-old wife, Sadie, believes her
                   husband would be a danger on the road.

                   "He doesn't think fast enough," she says. He has run stop signs and driven
                   the wrong way down a one-way street, "scaring the daylights out of me."

                   Yet her husband, who has fallen into a deep depression over the license
                   suspension, has already tried three times to get his license back -- failing
                   each time. The second time, a motor-vehicles examiner told him to quit,
                   telling him he might hurt someone, Mrs. Bertelsen says. He didn't listen.
                  He finally gave up just recently, after he flunked a third time and his
                   examiner begged him not to try again. He declines to comment.

                   When older drivers do get into accidents, they may find that cars aren't
                   made to protect them. Federal car-safety regulations are geared to
                   protect 5-foot-10-inch, 170-pound men involved in 30 miles-an-hour
                   head-on crashes. But the elderly typically aren't that big, and they often
                   get hit on the side. New side-impact standards, which all new cars must
                   meet by 1997, are designed to reduce side-impact injuries -- yet the stiff
                   padding needed to meet the new standards can in some cases hurt
                   seniors, breaking brittle bones.

                   Because the very old are also more prone to ailments such as pneumonia
                   brought on by bed rest, they sometimes die as a result of crashes that are
                   barely more than fender benders. While teens involved in fatal accidents
                   are four times as likely to survive if they wear seat belts, people over age
                   65 who belt up are only 1.5 times as likely to survive, the Journal's
                   analysis found.

                   Age-Related Accidents

                   Teenagers tend to get into accidents because of drunk driving and
                   speeding. But for the elderly, failure to yield to oncoming traffic tops the
                   list. Failure to yield was a factor in 44% of all fatal accidents involving
                   drivers over age 85, the Journal's analysis found, compared with less than
                   7% for drivers under age 55. Seniors dart into traffic at intersections, or
                   turn in front of oncoming traffic, often because of deteriorating depth
                   perception or peripheral vision, say state licensing officials.

                   Their frequent failure to yield helps explain why seniors often get hit in the
                   side. Indeed, more than 40% of fatal crashes involving drivers over the
                   age of 80 are side-impact crashes, more than double the percentage for
                   drivers between the ages of 25 and 50. And seniors die even as a result
                   of low-speed side crashes: At relative speeds under 33 miles an hour,
                   86% of those over age 60 died, compared with no one under age 40, a
                   1983 study by the Society for Automotive Engineers found.

                   One such accident killed Wilfred Robichard, an 83-year-old from Sound
                   Beach, N.Y. Mr. Robichard was making a left turn on a Port Jefferson
                   Station, N.Y., highway in March when, to avoid another car, he suddenly
                   stopped dead in the middle of the intersection -- even though a Chevy
                   Lumina was approaching to his right. The driver of that car, bus driver
                   Anthony Cuiffo, will never forget what happened next: "I hit the brakes,
                   but I couldn't move around" to avoid an accident. In the crash that
                   followed, both Mr. Robichard and one of his two passengers, a
                   78-year-old woman, were killed. No charges were filed against Mr.
                   Cuiffo.

                   Inattentiveness, such as talking or eating, was a factor in more than 13%
                   of all fatal accidents involving drivers over age 85, more than double the
                   rate of the safest drivers, those age 50 to 59, the Journal found. And
                   disobeying signs was a factor in about 14% of fatal accidents involving
                   drivers over age 80, almost three times the rate of drivers under age 65.
                   In July, for example, Texas police say 92-year-old Viola Nelson Rizzo
                   took a wrong turn on her way to exchange a pair of shoes and ended up
                   on the tarmac of Houston Gulf Airport, where she crashed into a Piper
                   plane taxiing toward the runway. No one was seriously hurt.

                   To weed out the most dangerous drivers, Ms. Lewis, the former Florida
                   state representative, tried -- twice -- to introduce a bill requiring regular
                   road tests for drivers over age 80. The three states that do have such
                   road tests -- Illinois, Indiana and New Hampshire -- say they believe the
                   measure has prevented accidents. In Illinois, for example, 17% of 81- to
                   86-year-olds, and 23% of those over 87, have failed required vision and
                   driving tests this year through July.

                   In Florida, though, Ms. Lewis's proposed bill died both times, in 1989
                   and 1990, amid a barrage of hate mail from senior citizens. "They said it
                   was discriminatory and that I was picking on them," says Ms. Lewis, who
                   has since retired from office. "There were very derogatory remarks that I
                   must have something wrong with my brain."

                   "We want the roads safe. We just don't want older people paying a
                   higher price than is paid by any other driver," retorts Michael Seaton, an
                   executive with the American Association of Retired Persons, which
                   lobbied against Ms. Lewis's proposal. AARP advocates mandatory
                   renewal tests for all drivers, not just the elderly, although it hasn't
                   challenged existing state restrictions on elderly drivers.

                   Congress is now mulling a bill that would fund research on weeding out
                   highrisk drivers without targeting the elderly. Called the High Risk
                   Driver's Act, it focuses largely on preventing teens from driving drunk.
                   AARP supports the bill because it promotes restricting licenses --
                   allowing daytime driving only, for instance -- instead of revoking them.

                   Most states already issue daylight-driving licenses to some drivers, such
                   as those with poor vision. And a handful, including Oregon, Washington,
                   Iowa and most recently California, offer further restrictions, such as
                   barring driving during rush hours. But the restricted-license programs
                   have had mixed results so far.

                   A Deadly Experiment

                   Arizona's Sun City, the big retirement community, for example, abruptly
                   abandoned its program in 1985 after an elderly woman with a restricted
                   license ran down and killed a pedestrian in a parking lot. And Tony
                   DeLorenzo, a licensing official at Oregon's Motor Vehicle Division, says
                   the state early on gave a restricted license to an older man even though he
                   had failed his test several times, figuring he needed to be able to run
                   errands. The man later struck and crippled a child.

                   The various states involved say they haven't kept track of the
                   restricted-license programs' results. But the Journal's analysis found that
                   fatal-accident rates for the elderly aren't significantly different in states that
                   have the programs. Restricting seniors to daylight hours may not help
                   much simply because many elderly drivers don't drive at night anyway.
                   According to the Journal's analysis, some 79% of fatal accidents involving
                   people age 65 and older occur in the daytime, compared with 43% of
                   fatal accidents involving people between the ages of 15 and 29.

                   With no standard method to pinpoint dangerous elderly drivers and get
                   them off the roads, perhaps the best that many states can do is to simply
                   encourage people to anonymously report bad drivers. Yet many people
                   are loathe to do so. Maureen Aber of Verona, Pa., says she still feels
                   guilty about a woman she turned in a few years ago.

                   The woman, who was in her early 80s, drove poorly and often left her
                   car parked halfway in the street. Ms. Aber pointed out the problem, but
                   the woman always said she was too tired to park again. Worried that the
                   woman might kill someone, Ms. Aber called the police.

                   Soon after, state officials retested the woman and revoked her license.
                   Without her wheels, the woman was forced to move into a nursing home,
                   where she subsequently died. "She was crushed" over losing her license,
                   Ms. Aber recalls. "I did feel responsible."

                   ---

                   Patricia G. Davis contributed to this article.

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