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Sunday Mornings with Rania: The Elderly Driver We Know

We all saw the headlines last week: 79-year-old in custody after officer critically injured on Southwest Freeway and we all immediately asked the same questions – was the driver drunk? Was the victim, 24-year-old Houston police officer, Nestor Garcia, critically injured?

Story lines continued to run and, as a community, we prayed for Officer Garcia who was not just hit but tragically dragged. Out of surgery, he is recovering from a head injury, abdominal injuries and fractures. I know all of our thoughts continue to be with this young officer and his family.

But what about the driver? What’s the story behind the wheel? Was he drunk? Was he on medication? Was it simply age? Vision? Or was it something else? And what about his family? Were they worried about him driving? Did they try to stop him from taking the wheel? Who is liable when you have an elderly driver behind the wheel and tragedy strikes? Could he be sentenced? Serve time in jail?

To begin, it’s important to note that this is a significant issue. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there were 22 million licensed drivers aged 70 and older as of 2008, representing 78 percent of that demographic group. According to the CDC, in 2015, there were more than 40 million licensed drivers ages 65 and older in the United States (an increase of almost 50 percent). Generally, driving helps older adults stay mobile and independent. Certainly though, the risk of being injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash increases as you age.

What does the state say?

Let’s start by talking numbers – 79 is a key one. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Texas Transportation Code, in addition to the regular driver license renewal requirements, individuals 79 years of age or older must meet extra requirements to renew their license:

  • Individuals aged 79 – 84 must always renew in person every six years. All individuals 79 or older must always take a vision test.
  • Individuals 85 or older must always renew in person on the driver’s second birthday after the previous expiration date; fees are reduced.

And what about the family? Are you ever liable for an accident at the hands of your elderly parent?

  • What if you provide financial support for your aging parent – does that attach liability? No: even if you pay for their home and car, you are not liable. The exception can be found, however, if the car is registered in your name.
  • What if you should have stopped your elderly family member from driving but didn’t or couldn’t? According to the law, you are still not legally obligated to control your parent’s driving, especially when they are driving their own or someone else’s vehicle.
  • What if you let your aging parent drive your car? Here is where liability attaches. If you let your aging parent drive your car – meaning any car registered, leased, or rented to you – when you know that his/her driving abilities are diminished or that he/she’s not properly licensed, you may be liable for damages caused in an accident.
  • What if you have power of attorney? In this case, you absolutely can be and more than likely will be liable for any and all judgments above your elderly parents auto coverage. You may find yourself paying out of your own pocket for the defense and any judgment rendered against you for your negligent failure to act (i.e., stop your parent from driving).

How to play it safe when it comes to the elderly drivers in your family:

  • Talk to them with respect and trust but with honesty
  • Remind them to limit driving in bad weather, at night and on high-speed roads
  • Ask them to plan routes before they leave and not rely on navigation to get from point A to point B
  • Go over what medications are being taken and their possible side effects
  • Remind older drivers that whether due to age, weight loss or medications, their response to alcohol will not be what it used to be
  • Focus on good health and exercising regularly to increase strength and flexibility
  • When in doubt, there is nothing wrong with asking for a ride from friends or family or using a ride-sharing platform like Uber

Life’s transitions are difficult, especially for aging individuals. It is also difficult for the families. But in all things, through talking and planning, tragedies can be mitigated. The consequences of not handling these situations head-on can be tragic. We saw this this last week when it hit home, in our Houston community. We continue to pray for Officer Garcia as well as both families on both sides of this tragic scenario.

Posted by Rania Mankarious, on 1 Oct 2017

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston