On Wednesday afternoon, a 93 year-old woman’s car careened into East Dallas’ iconic grocery, Jimmy’s Food Store, with a force that witnesses described as explosive.
The elderly woman was a regular customer at Jimmy’s and mistakenly hit the accelerator instead of the brake on her approach to the store. The car smashed the patio table and chairs where customers are usually dining. Store owner Paul DiCarlo said, “When I came up here, I thought there was definitely going to be someone under those tires.” Fortunately, no one was sitting there at the time.
The old woman panicked after her landing in the store front and frantically reversed into the parking lot where once again she was lucky not have injured anyone.
Store manager Jeff White ran after her as he was concerned for her safety. He caught up to the vehicle and reached into the open window. He placed the car in park and then wisely took the keys away. The older woman was shaking, but had sustained only minor injuries.
This kind of accident is becoming too familiar to North Texans. In January, a similar accident where an elderly driver smashed through a hearing aid store left customer Fred Sallis dead. No one may have died at Jimmy’s Food Store, but the accident still serves as another important warning for those senior drivers who may need to relinquish their keys. The truth is that elderly drivers are more dangerous than teenage drivers.
A 2007 Texas State law called “Katie’s Law” requires elderly drivers to renew their driver’s license more frequently at age 79 and to renew it in person at the DMV. The law was named after Katie Bolka, a junior in high school in Dallas, who was killed in a fatal car wreck caused by an elderly woman. The law, unlike in many other states, does not require elderly drivers to retake the driving test to prove their competency.
A variety of resources are available for family members who are having difficulty discussing the sensitive issue of driving with their loved ones. In a state like Texas where public transportation options are not always available for citizens depending on where you live, it can be particularly difficult to talk about a life without being able to drive.
The National Highway Traffic Administration knows how hard it can be to start a conversation with a loved one about driving and aging, and they have a few ideas about what to discuss. There are also websites that give seniors tips about safety.
Aging seriously affects a driver’s ability to control a vehicle. Simulations and research have shown consistently that even those who were once great drivers will see a change in their abilities both mechanically and cognitively. Don’t wait for an accident to happen; be aware of you and your loved one’s driving abilities including warning signs that might indicate difficulties in the near future. As the NHTA aptly puts, find a way to drive safely and age gracefully at the same time.