Graying of CT Drivers: Who Decides When Pops Gives up the Car Keys?

In October Patch reported details of a car accident at the Wilton transfer station in which an 87-year-old driver hit a local man, Russell Fairchild. On Friday Fairchild died.

Patch file photo
Patch file photo
In October Patch reported details of a car accident at the Wilton transfer station, which resulted in serious injuries to a local man, Russell Fairchild.

A reader posted a comment on the story, which described an 87-year-old driver having struck Fairchild with his car, knocking him to the ground, driving over his left leg and dragging him approximately 15 feet. The Patch reader asked how Fairchild was doing. 

Having spotted the comment, Fairchild's family reached out to Patch to say that two months into his recovery, he took a turn for the worse and died on Friday, Dec. 13.

During an October police briefing on the incident at the transfer station, Lt. Wakeman said that the driver had indicated he believed he was applying the brake but accelerated, hitting Fairchild.

"We've seen this type of incident before, with older drivers driving through store fronts," Wakeman said.

After the Oct. 11 accident, the 87-year-old driver was not arrested, though police seized his license and returned it to the DMV, which would in turn deal directly with the elderly driver.

The Connecticut DMV acknowledges that as drivers age there are factors that hinder their ability to drive safely.

The CT DMV website states it, "...wants older drivers to maintain their driving independence as long as they continue to drive safely and confidently."

For CT drivers 65+, renewal of a driver's license is valid for only two years, while Connecticut driver's licenses are usually valid for six years. Also, drivers 65+ are generally required to renew their licenses in person. 

One wonders whether these two stipulations are adequate.

According to the NHTSA, since 2003 the numbers of adults 65+ has increased by 20 percent and the number of licensed older drivers increased by 21 percent, to 35 million licensed older drivers in 2012.

In 2012, according to NHTSA 5,560 people over the age of 65 died, and 214,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes. Those figures represent a 3 percent increase in the number of fatalities and a 16 percent increase in the number of injuries from the previous year. 

The data, according to the NHTSA, also show that older adults are at greater risk of dying or sustaining serious injuries, even in low-severity crashes.

AAA offers an online quiz that lets senior drivers  self-score their results and evaluate their level of safety. Scores ranging from zero to 15 are advised, "GO! You are aware of what is important to safe driving and are practicing what you know." Scores of 35 or higher are admonished, "STOP! You are engaging in too many unsafe driving practices, and might pose a hazard to yourself and others."

An article in the New York Times on Saturday, Dec. 14 followed the work of a "driving rehabilitation specialist" who specializes in working with elderly drivers to help extend their safe driving as long as possible. 

The idea behind coaching and evaluating senior drivers is to banish the notion that the only choices are to ignore "the difficulties faced by elderly drivers" or confiscate their keys.  

Should Connecticut have any additional requirements or testing for older drivers?

Lorna December 17, 2013 at 12:54 PM
Mandatory testing for older drivers is overdue. Tragic deaths such as Mr. Fairchild's might be preventable by screening out those no longer fit to have a license. Too many people seem to forget that driving is a privilege, not an entitlement. Unfortunately, those with lots of "life experience" (and I've had more than five decades myself) are naturally at the risk of slowed reflexes, decreased hearing (might have been all those loud concerts and clubs), and less-sharp vision. On top of that, medications for a variety of age-related maladies can affect one's concentration, endurance, reflexes, etc. needed for safe driving. My condolences to Mr. Fairchild's family and friends, and my sympathy to the driver and his family -- I'm sure the guilt they have to live with is heart-wrenching. While I have your attention, I'd like to ask that you don't drive while distracted: using your cell phone, having your dog in your lap, looking at your passengers, etc. And our roads are not your ash tray. Please use the one in your vehicle.
Leslie Yager (Editor) December 17, 2013 at 02:10 PM
I got hit by a car driven by an elderly woman last year when I was jogging in the park in Greenwich. She had post-it notes all over her dashboard so I couldn't help but think her family members knew there was a problem. Senior drivers risk losing their depth perception.
Linda Ferrara Fairchild December 21, 2013 at 12:49 PM
People with elderly parents should be responsible for their parents like we are for our children. If my daughter is texting and driving, I would take away the keys. If we see our parents are losing their hearing, sight, reflexes, etc. we need to step in and do the same! This accident and subsequent death could have been prevented...
Michelle Babbidge Fairchild December 21, 2013 at 04:42 PM
Leslie, it was nice to e-meet you when I first contacted you regarding Russell's passing. Thank you for your article in bringing awareness to these types of situations.
Heather Robinson December 23, 2013 at 05:18 PM
We have to stop these tragedies. If there is family, they should be accountable for the actions of their parents. We stopped my father from driving when he was in his early 80s (he had frontal lobe dementia). My mother, who had Alzheimer's, insisted she was fine, and luckily there was a facility in Massachusetts that could test her (Mercy Hospital: http://www.mercycares.com/pages.asp?id=6114 ) She failed! We immediately took away her car and set up a driver to come once a week to take her anywhere she wanted to go. She was already used to taking the free buses in her town. It went as well as could be expected, and we all slept a lot better at night.


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