There's no easy way to talk about curtailing the rights of the elderly. No one wants to think about taking Grandpa's driver's license, least of all Grandpa himself. But the 100-year-old driver who backed into a crowd of school children in Los Angeles this week is like a car horn sounding, waking us up to the fact that, uncomfortable or not, this is a conversation we need to be having.
Cops say Preston Carter, who will be 101 in a few days, hit a total of 11 people, nine of them kids, as he backed his Cadillac onto a sidewalk near an elementary school. Four of those kids had to be rushed to the hospital in serious condition.
Carter was cooperative with cops, and there were no signs of drugs or alcohol. Despite the horrors of the scene, this is not the description of a monster but of an old man who simply couldn't hear the screams of women and children telling him to stop, an old man who confused his gas pedal and his break. He's an old man who got lucky -- all 11 people he backed into (or over) are expected to survive.
It's no wonder the 100-year-old's accident has resurfaced the debate over the elderly and driving rights. How could it not?
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But the real problem here is that we wait so long; we wait until horrible accidents like this one instead of being proactive. We are so afraid of hurting Grandpa's feelings that all too often we make do with quiet side discussions about how he really shouldn't be doing this. It takes a strong person to actually start that conversation with the person in question.
But what are we really afraid of here? Shouldn't we be MORE afraid of what disaster awaits our geriatrics out there if we don't do something? They could be the next Preston Carter or worse ... they could kill someone, themselves included.
The government can't legislate this because there is no set age; every elderly person is different. My grandmother was still getting in a car and driving from New York to North Carolina at 82 ... and I would have trusted her to take my then toddler daughter along for the ride. My grandfather on the other hand? Let's just say I breathed a deep sigh of relief when he gave up on his weekly trips to town.
So that leaves us to police our loved ones, us to step in and prevent accidents like this, to prevent tragedies. It's not a comfortable position, I know, but I'd rather risk a little bit of discomfort than a dead child: how about you?
What do you think of 100-year-old men behind the wheel?
Image via Matt Erasmus/Flickr