As the baby boomer population continues to age, it’s a growing conversation in our country: at what age are we just too old to drive? It has been statistically proven that teenage drivers are more dangerous to themselves and others than adult drivers, which is why states restrict their driving privileges. What about elderly drivers? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that there were 33 million drivers age 65+ in the U.S. in 2009, a 23% increase since 1999. And although senior drivers make up only 9% of the population, they account for 14% of all traffic fatalities. A 2012 study that found that among those over age 85, traffic fatalities are nearly four times as high as with teen drivers.
It is simply a fact of life that hearing, eyesight, and most importantly reflexes become impaired as we age. Do elderly drivers cause more accidents than younger adults? A freakish accident in Kannapolis, North Carolina Saturday morning raises at least the possibility that the driver’s age was a contributing factor.
Nick and Brittany Schmidt were spending time in their backyard Saturday morning when a pickup truck hit the side of their house and careened through their backyard. The 97-year-old driver was apparently backing out of his driveway on Rodgers Lake Road. He failed to turn onto the street, however, and continued in reverse through a neighbor’s fence, speeding across the road onto the Schmidt’s property.
Neighbors who witnessed the scene told Fox 8 that the elderly man was going so fast the Schmidts didn’t have time to move out of the truck’s path. Brother Kendal Schmidt told reporters: “He hit the side of the house and bounced off...tore down our back step, and that's when his wife Brittany got thrown into the bed of the truck.” Mrs. Schmidt was injured when a rod went through her leg.
The truck pinned Mr. Schmidt to his Toyota Tacoma. Paramedics and fire fighters arrived after a 911 alert and rescued Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt. They were transported to the hospital where they both underwent surgery. As of Saturday night the Schmidts remained hospitalized but in recovery. No charges have been filed against the elderly driver at this time.
Thankfully, no one died as a result of this accident, but Nick and Brittany Schmidt will have to deal with the physical and emotional trauma caused by being hit by a vehicle in the most unlikely of places. The elderly man who hit them will have to live with that, too. If age does turn out to be a factor in the accident, I can’t help but think of all the pain that could have been avoided if the man and his family had talked honestly about his health and decided it was time to put away the keys. It’s a difficult conversation to have, but it’s a conversation that could prevent a serious accident.