An elderly Florida woman killed three people and seriously injured four more as she tried to back out of a handicapped parking space. As the 79 year old woman was trying exit the parking lot, she put her vehicle in reverse and accelerated backwards, hitting a group of seven elderly women before she jumped a curb, backed over some small trees, and ended up partially submerged in a creek. Neither she nor her passenger was injured. According to news sources, one person died at the scene and two died at an area hospital. The four injured churchgoers are in serious condition.
This tragedy hit the small community hard; as the Pastor tries to comfort his congregation and the victims’ families, the 79 year old woman who killed and injured so many is likely dealing with feelings of guilt for failing to put her vehicle in drive before accelerating. Perhaps Florida law is also to blame for this accident. Florida law requires that drivers 80 years of age and older pass a vision test and renew their licenses every 6 years, rather than every 8 years as is required of younger drivers. Some experts argue that the law does not go far enough. University of Florida’s Institute on Aging director Dr. Marco Pahor believes that vision is not the only impairment that should be tested. Other age-related factors, such as cognitive impairments, hearing impairments, and physical impairments all have an effect on a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle. Furthermore, elderly drivers are more likely to be taking multiple prescribed medications which can affect their ability to drive safely. It is also possible that the family members of the 79 year old woman could have taken action to prevent her from driving. Florida law allows for the confidential reporting of unsafe driving by anyone, including a doctor, a police officer, a relative, or even a bystander. This means that before this 79 year old woman plowed through 7 pedestrians, a relative could have reported prior instances of unsafe driving to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHS&MV). Upon receipt of a complaint questioning the safety of an elderly driver, the DHS&MV will require a re-examination prior to renewing a driver’s license. The test consists of interviewing the driver, and can also include a written test and a vision test.
This is a problem that is not going away. While statistics show that elderly drivers are not as dangerous as teen drivers, demographics are changing. In 2011, there were 28.5 million Americans over 70. That figure is expected to balloon to 52.7 million by 2030. Making it more difficult for the elderly to keep their license is something very few politicians will want to touch. In fact, some may consider it political suicide because the size of the elderly voting population.
As for the elderly driver, authorities are investigating whether or not to file charges. The families of all seven victims may be able to file a civil suit against the elderly driver for negligence. At Auger & Auger, we offer our condolences to those hurt or killed in this tragedy, along with their family, friends, and the congregation. If you were injured or lost a loved one to someone else’s negligence, call us today to discuss your rights and options. We hope to provide you with peace of mind in the face of your ordeal.