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 Wilton man, Russell Fairchild. On Friday Fairchild died.

Patch file photo
Patch file photo
By Leslie Yager

In October Patch reported details of a car accident at the Wilton transfer station, which resulted in serious injuries to a Wilton 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 Wilton 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.

In Darien, police confiscated the driver's license of an elderly man in a Dec. 2 car accident on Mansfield Avenue who couldn't remember how his car left the roadway and hit a utility pole, Darien police said. A female passenger received some injuries (none of which were described as serious) as a result of the accident.

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.

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. 

Editor's note: This article, in a slightly different version, originally was published by Wilton Patch. Among other edits, a paragraph was added by Editor David Gurliacci.


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