As word spread of a car crashing through the entrance of a Whole Foods in tony Ridgewood early Sunday, the natural question arose: How old was the driver? Answer: 79. Which once again raises an “age”-old question. That is: In one of the most densely populated areas of the entire country, how old is too old to drive?
As sheer luck would have it, the morning’s crash didn’t cause any serious injuries.
But in an all-too-familiar scenario, the 79-year-old driver from the spit-sized town of Glen Rock hit the gas instead of the brake as he pulled into a parking space around 9:30 a.m.
He was fine, but authorities said an elderly customer had to be taken to the hospital with cuts on her feet — presumably from all the shattered glass.
Earlier this year, 86-year-old Elsa Jenisch of Oakland — another of North Jersey’s pricier communities — was killed when her parked 1999 Dodge Caravan began rolling backward in her driveway and she tried to reach in and stop it instead of getting out of the way.
It’s an emotional issue, this idea of individual freedom versus the risk to society. But even as we live longer and remain active, the facts don’t lie.
Age affects critical measures, including speed and distance — and, sometimes, judgment.
More importantly, reaction time lengthens.
If you’re concerned about an elderly loved one — after hearing of another crash in North Jersey involving a senior citizen who hit the gas instead of the brake — see: TIPSHEET: How to tell whether mom or dad can still drive
Add in any medications someone may be taking and you’ve increased the negative odds even more.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
*The death rate per mile traveled for drivers over 85 is four times that of the 30-59 age group.
*They are also more likely to die in accidents. Their bodies are older, frailer.
*The only group more dangerous than senior citizens — statistically speaking — is teenagers.
That these incidents appear to be happening more in North Jersey’s more affluent towns raises a host of its own questions. Given the layouts, the only way to get many places are by car. And if an elderly resident has been doing it all of his or her life, and doesn’t have someone to help, their choices would seem limited.
AAA has a quiz for drivers over 55. Go to aaafoundation.org/quizzes , or call 407.444.7913. Also check out: seniordrivers.org .
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