Tragic car accident raises questions, again, about Michigan’s law and when older drivers are too old to drive
How old is too old to drive?
Sadly, that’s the question that was on my mind – and, likely, the minds of many other people – after the deadly, head-on car accident involving an 86-year-old driver who was driving the wrong way on US-10, north of Farwell in Clare County.
In its reporting on the fatal crash, 9 & 10 News stated that “[i]nvestigators don’t know why [the 86-year-old driver] was driving west in the eastbound lanes.”
Although the reason is important, the fact still remains that the driver traveling in the wrong direction on a highway, against the traffic and at highway speeds, was 86 years old.
This is not the first time that such a tragedy has occurred and it’s not the first time that I’ve spoken out about the need for Michigan to take action to ensure that its laws for older drivers protect both the public and the older drivers, themselves.
As I said in my blog post about a fatal, wrong-way auto accident caused by an 83-year-old driver:
“This is a tragedy, certainly. But these are also preventable tragedies. My concern is that we will be seeing this happen more and more often as our population continues to age, until we finally create some basic common-sense rules that balance individual freedoms of the individual with the need to protect all of us on the roads. Sadly, wrong-way crashes at the hands of senior citizen drivers who become confused are becoming more and more common.”
Balancing safety with the rights of older drivers
After I appeared on Fox 2 Detroit’s “Let It Rip” to talk about elderly drivers and the senseless death of an 88-year-old driver, I wrote a blog post where I proposed what could and should be done to protect older drivers and the public:
- “I’m saying we can strike a balance [between public safety and “elderly drivers’ freedom”]. I’m saying that as a society, we can do better. To do that, I propose testing every couple years for elderly drivers after they reach a certain age to determine if they’re safe enough to drive. This protects individuals and protects society. A simple, quick and inexpensive five-minute test, every couple years, would make all the difference.”
- “Currently, our law is entirely focused on the pound of cure, not the ounce of prevention. You can get a license re-examination to determine if an elderly driver is still fit to drive, but only if that driver has killed someone, caused three car accidents in two years, or accrued 12 or more points on their license in two years.”
Unfortunately, the Michigan Legislature has yet to enact similar, common-sense safety measures.
When should older drivers hang up the keys?
So, until the Legislature and lawmakers step up to give the elderly driving public specific guidelines for when it may be time to slide over to the passenger seat and let someone else drive, it looks like older drivers and the people who love them will have to figure out something for themselves.
To help elderly drivers and their families identify when it may be time to hang up the keys, I propose that folks be on the “lookout” for the following factors that could affect driving ability:
- If you aren’t sure that you can drive safely, then you should refrain from driving until you know for certain that you can drive safely. At the very least, you should stop driving at night and driving on the highway, driving in bad weather and driving long distances until you know you do not pose a danger to yourself and others on the road.
- Signs that an older driver may need to reconsider his or her ability to drive safely include failing vision, confusion, loss of physical coordination (which can affect something as simple as the ability to push down on accelerator when you meant to apply the brakes), problems with balance, declines in cognitive functioning and perception and delays in reaction time.
- Be certain that the medications an older driver is taking are not impairing his or her ability to drive. Many medications will.
- If an older driver is becoming increasingly confused, disoriented and/or forgetful, then those are strong indicators that he or she may not be able to safely drive.
Deadly head-on collision near Farwell
In her report for 9 & 10 News, reporter Taylor Jones described the deadly crash as follows:
“Police say 86-year-old Ines Brocht, from Marion, was going the wrong way on US-10. Brocht and the driver of the car she hit, Charles Sarbach from Windsor, Ohio, died. A passenger, Janelle Sarbach, was taken to the hospital and remains in critical condition. The crash happened in Clare County around 10 Monday [August 23, 2016] morning just north of Farwell near exit 85. It was an intense morning for first responders. They say when two cars going about 70 miles per hour collide, it’s always a tragic outcome.”