San Jose accident reignites elderly drivers discussion

June 27, 2011 7:09:26 PM PDT
Older drivers are under scrutiny again after a tragic accident over the weekend in San Jose.

Two elderly residents of a nursing home died from their injuries after a 90-year-old visitor plowed her car through a wall of the building Saturday morning.

"She was extremely distraught, and saying things like she didn't know if she could live with it," said Stephen Hooker with the Amberwood Gardens nursing home. "I just pray she is in a better state but I doubt it now that there have been two fatalities associated with it."

The driver apparently hit the gas instead of the brake. Prosecutors will determine if any charges will be filed.

"We look at their driving history, whether or not they have been told not to drive or stop driving, and whether a physician has consulted them on this," said assistant district attorney Karyn Sinunu-Towery.

John Preovolos, an 88-year-old driver, has been an instructor for AARP's driver safety program for 11 years.

"We all know things change as we get older," Preovolos said, "but there are specific things that affect our driving."

Some of those things including hearing, eyesight and reflexes.

In California, there are more than 320,000 licensed drivers who are 65 years of age or older. The biggest percentage of those are between the ages of 65 and 70 with the number dropping significantly.

For older age groups, there are fewer than 16,000 drivers in the 86 to 89 age bracket and slightly more than 7,000 who are 90 years of age or older.

When a person is 70 and older and their license expires, the DMV requires them to renew it in person and takes a written and vision test. However, age doesn't automatically trigger a behind-the-wheel test, which is why some believe in the mature driving courses like the one offered by AARP.

"When you take the course, it has a whole section on evaluating whether you should be driving or not," said 80-year-old driver Ann Scales.

The DMV also encourages family members to get involved in an elderly person's driving decisions.

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