Tuesday, October 02 2012 @ 09:23 PM UTC
Contributed by: B' Spokes
The science of knowing when older drivers need to let go of the wheel
by Douglas Birch, John Hopkins Public Health (pg 37)
On a spring-like Saturday morning in February of last year, Jeanette Walke drove her silver Honda Civic northwest on University Parkway near Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus and made a right turn across a bicycle lane into the driveway of her apartment house. Police say she cut off 20-year-old Nathan Krasnopoler—science fiction fan, chess player, enthusiastic amateur cook and Hopkins computer science student—who was carrying a bag of produce home from the Waverly Farmers Market on his Trek bicycle. A police reconstruction of the accident said Krasnopoler swerved, collided with Walke’s car and was thrown in front of it, trapping him underneath. Badly injured and apparently unable to breathe, he was caught between the searing heat of the engine and the pavement. He was still wearing his bike helmet, according to police, but his lungs had collapsed. His broken glasses were found at the scene.
While most media reports emphasized Walke’s age—“Elderly Woman Ticketed in Crash with Hopkins Bicyclist” was a typical headline—Walke told police she was in good overall health. She reported having had glaucoma surgery in 2009 in both eyes, but told police she had visited the ophthalmologist the previous month and was given “a good report.” Walke could not be reached for comment, but her attorney says he did not believe her age played any role in the incident.
Still, the tragic death of Nathan Krasnopoler bore some of the hallmarks of collisions involving older motorists. Walke, who was charged with negligent driving, told police she looked but didn’t see Krasnopoler riding in the bike lane on her right as she approached her driveway. “I kept checking,” she said, according to the police investigation. Experts say that drivers older than 80 or so who are involved in collisions are more likely to report never having seen the other vehicle.
Researchers are seeking ways to help keep older people behind the wheel for as long as they can drive safely and to prepare them to call it quits if they can no longer do so. The goal: Help governments, families and society improve road safety while respecting the rights of older citizens.
Answers, however, have been elusive. “The evidence is really just not there yet on what policies and programs are most effective, and much more needs to be done in the area of older driver research,” says Andrea Gielen, ScD ’89, ScM ’79, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP).
Read more: http://magazine.jhsph.edu/2012/fall/_pdf/2012-fall-mag-features.pdf