Ice cream shop crash: Another case of 'too old' to drive safely?

An elderly man drove his SUV into a group of people outside of Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour in Buena Park, Calif. A woman was killed in the accident, raising anew questions about seniors driving.

Californians have seen this unfortunate tragedy before, raising again questions about seniors behind the wheel.

On Friday evening, an elderly man, reportedly 81, drove an SUV into a line of people outside of the Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, in Buena Park. Calif. One woman  was killed, and six others, including teenagers, were reported to have minor to moderate injuries.

Witnesses say that the driver of the silver Suzuki XL7 was parked in front of the parlor, started the car and apparently accelerated forward, instead of going backward. The vehicle hit a small fence and ran into those sitting and standing between the vehicle and the restaurant."It looked like the guy put his foot on the gas pedal instead of the brake," Daniel Long, who was eating with his family inside, told the CBS affiliate, KCAL-TV.

The driver has not been charged and the incident is still under investigation.

This ice cream shop crash bears a striking resemblance to tragedy in Los Angeles in August 2012. Then, Preston Carter, a 100-year old driver, backed his large blue Cadillac into a crowd of people standing on a sidewalk near an elementary school. Four children were hospitalized.

These kinds of accidents raise anew questions about seniors driving. California, like many states, already has measures in place to check the driving skills of the elderly.

For example, the California's Department of Motor Vehicles requires that people over age 70 renew their driver's license in person, rather than via the Internet or by mail. Older drivers can also be required to take a supplemental driving test if they fail a vision exam, or if a police officer, a physician, or a family member raises questions about their ability to drive.

What does your state require? Check this AAA site.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported in 2012, auto safety experts point to US demographic trends and are raising yellow flags.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety based in Arlington, Virginia, in 2012, there were an estimated 29 million drivers in the U.S. over the age of 70, or about 11 percent of the total licensed drivers.  That number has grown from 73 percent over the age of 70 with a license in 1997 to 79 percent in 2012.  By 2030, due to the surge in baby boomer retirees, up to 53 million drivers will be over the age of 70, reports Orleans, Mass.,

In Orleans, the number of car accidents involving seniors has increased between 2013 and 2014.  During a six-month period last year, there were 9 accidents with drivers over the age of 70 and all nine of those were cited but this year during the same period, there have been 16 accidents and 12 drivers were cited.  Three of the latest accidents involved running into a building.

But The Christian Science Monitor also reports:

Reaching the age of 70 doesn't automatically mean diminished driving skills. But statistically, there is cause for concern, reports In a 1997 NHTSA study, older people made up 9 percent of the population but accounted for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 17 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.

Senior-citizen lobbying groups have, in some cases, successfully argued that age is not an accurate predictor of driving ability. Their position is that mandatory road tests for seniors, in the absence of an incident, are discriminatory. If seniors are forced to take a road test, all age groups should be required to take them. And as Baby Boomers become a larger segment of older drivers, they also become a more powerful voting bloc on this issue.

The American Automobile Association has an entire senior driving section on its website which includes self-testing, driver improvement courses, night driving, and public transportation options.

Another site discusses how adults may talk to their older parents about when it may be time to stop driving.

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