Elderly Driving Accidents in San Diego : A Growing Problem

October 9, 2014

This week’s fatal accident in La Jolla that killed a mother of three and was allegedly caused by a 91-year-old woman once again brought the problem of older adult drivers in the spotlight. With a growing aging population, there are more and more older adult drivers on the road – more than ever before. The CDC reports that in 2009, there were 33 million licensed drivers ages 65 and older in the United States, a 23 percent increase from 2009.

We know that California is the state with the largest number of residents over age 65 (reported 4.2 million in 2010), followed by Florida (3.3 million), New York and Texas (2.6 million each). The UT reported in 2010 that seniors made up 11.3% of the region’s populatio, and that by 2030, the county’s 65+ population is expected to more than double. Road safety experts predict that by 2030, when of the baby boomer generation is at least 65, older adult drivers will be responsible for 25% of all fatal crashes. In 2005, only 11% of fatal crashes involved drivers over age 65.

Why and When Incidents Happen

Over time, aging naturally causes declines in vision, reaction time, and cognitive functioning, and other physical changes which may affect driving abilities. Elderly drivers also sometimes take medicines to treat aging-related conditions, and these medicines may impair their ability to focus or make snap decisions. Many accidents involving elderly drivers happen in the middle of the day, on familiar roads, near the seniors’ residences. As elderly people age and recognize it is not safe to drive at night or during foul weather, they may drive at times of the day when they feel most safe. While these habits can keep older adults on the road longer, it is possible that this “self-regulation” can give drivers a false sense of confidence that as long as they are careful, tragedies won’t happen. As long as there are people, animals, other vehicles or structures around, there really is no “safe place” to drive. If a driver of any age has difficulty behind the wheel under any circumstances, he or she should not be allowed to drive.

When It’s Time to Stop Driving

Care providers and medical experts agree that a person’s age is not and should not be the reason for taking away car keys. There are people in their 80’s and even 90’s who hold licenses and are fully capable of driving safely, and there are adults in their 50’s and 60’s who put themselves and others in harms way regularly when they get behind the wheel. A 2002 study published in the American Journal of Public health revealed that more than 600,000 drivers age 70 or older decide to stop driving every year. Insurance rates for adults 75 or older are only slightly higher, and far lower than rates for teenage drivers. Physical and mental condition should be evaluated regularly, along with medications and recent driving record. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety offers a number of resources for older drivers, including the Roadwise Online Review and Driver 65+ Self-Rating Brochure.

Recent History of Elderly Driving Accidents in San Diego County

Over the years, there have been dozens of local accidents in San Diego County involving older adult drivers. Some of the notable incidents include:

April 15, 2009: 86-year-old Elsie Speck of Tierrasanta mistakenly hit the gas pedal, sending her car into a dental office and killing 59-year-old Clay Smith of Spring Valley. Story on NBCSanDiego.com.

January 29, 2010: A 92-year-old man struck and killed Lucas Giaconelli near Thibodo Road and Edna Way in Vista. Story on NBCSanDiego.com.

March 21, 2010: A San Ysidro man was severly injured when an elderly driver confused the gas and brake pedals and rammed into him outside a Costco on Moreno Boulevard in San Diego.

February 4, 2011: 83-year-old Clarence Kinney, who had a suspended driver’s license, drove his pickup truck 90 mph down the wrong-side of Interstate 5, colliding with a gas tanker truck and a Land Rover. That crash was captured on cell phone video and made national headlines.

April 25, 2011: 92-year-old Berniece Elizabeth Mosley was killed when she was ejected from and ran over by a 1998 Honda Accord driven by her 92-year-old husband. Police said the husband was backing out of a driveway when the vehicle abruptly accelerated in reverse and went over the curb and onto a sloping lawn in front of the residence. Story on 10News.com.

July 15, 2011: A 75-year-old woman confused her brake and gas pedals outside of an El Cajon motel, ran over a 60-year-old maid, and killed her. Story on CBS8.com.

January 19, 2012: A man in his mid-40s was rear-ended by a 75-year-old woman while riding his bicycle on Sorrento Valley Boulevard near Whispering Heights Lane.

February 25, 2012: A 75-year-old woman driving a Honda Civic failed to yield to the right-of-way of a pedestrian, and fatally struck 62-year-old Gabriela Alexandrescu in a crosswalk at the intersection of Reynard Way and Redwood Street.

June 5, 2012: A 72-year-old man was killed when he drove his vehicle off Interstate 5 into a ravine on Interstate 5 near Birmingham Drive in Encinitas.

October 5, 2012: A 68-year-old Rancho Santa Fe Man lost control of his 2007 Toyota Camry on San Dieguito Road and was broadsided by a 2003 Toyota Rav-4 driven by a 74-year-old San Diego woman. Both drivers were admitted to Scripps Memorial Hospital in critical condition.ro

April 1, 2013: An 85-year-old man died after he plowed his vehicle into a home in the 400 block of Braun Avenue in Lomita. Story on CBS8.com.

June 8, 2013: Two pedestrians were injured and seven cars were damaged when a 76-year-old woman lost control of her car in the parking structure of the Plaza Bonita Mall. Story on Fox5SanDiego.com.

June 9, 2014: An 80-year-old La Mesa woman died when she crashed her 1989 Toyota into a median on eastbound Interstate 8 near West Main Street in El Cajon. Story on Fox5SanDiego.com.

June 14, 2014: A Palm Desert man and woman, both 81, died when the man tried to make a U-turn on Old Highway 395 and crashed with a pickup truck near Fallbrook.

September 11, 2014: A man in his 70s drove a sedan across Angell Avenue in University City down the Rose Canyon slope after he mistook his brake pedal for the gas pedal. Story on UTSanDiego.com.

Civil Liability: Personal Injury and Wrongful Death

When an injury or death occurs and is caused by negligence, it does not matter if that negligence is the result of a texting teenager, a drunk driver, or an elderly driver. Even if the elderly driver is fully competent and capable of safely operating a vehicle, if their negligence (such as violation of traffic laws) causes an accident, they may be held liable in a wrongful death or personal injury claim.