Driving while old

25 years ago, when I lived in Santa Monica, I came home to
crime-scene-tape blocking the other end of the alley that provided
access to my garage. There had been a traffic accident that had been
cleaned up hours before. I read about it in the next day’s Santa
Monica Outlook
. It seemed that an old lady had hit the gas
instead of the brake and driven into the office building on Ocean Park
Blvd that 26th street dead-ends into, crashing through a large window,
killing the owner of a small accounting firm that rented space in the
building. The driver wasn’t hurt, nor charged. Car crashes into office

11 years later an old man, George Weller, hit the gas
instead of the brake and drove through Santa Monica’s farmers’ market,
killing 10. The story made the national news. He was convicted on 10
counts of vehicular manslaughter but, in deference to his age, not
imprisoned. For the brief time I lived in Santa Monica unemployed I
shopped at this market weekly, so I could imagine this vividly. George Weller

A few months ago my mother (94) hit the gas instead of the brake, lost
control, drove into a tree, broke her legs and ribs, died a few days
later. (not in Santa Monica). No one else was hurt, which was luck.

A few years ago a friend’s mother backed out of her driveway into the
street without looking, got t-boned but not hurt, gave up driving. I
admired her for that. But my mother wouldn’t have done that, the
pleasure and autonomy of driving herself around meant too much to her.

Meanwhile, 10,000 people die every year in crashes involving drunk drivers.
Let’s fix that problem before focusing on the elderly. Of which I’m one.


I think individuals vary too much in their driving abilities as they age to have an easy answer to this problem, My father-in0law was a horrible driver his whole life. He looked at the road directly in front of his car to avoid hitting any bumps. To be fair , when he learned to drive, there were no expressways and the speed limit in the state was no more than fifty anywhere and he thought that was too fast. By the time he was 80 he confined his driving to a three mile radius including church, my house and drug store, bank, and grocery store and daylight only. He was still driving when he died at 86 and never hurt himself or anyone else.
On the other hand I know a 98 year old snowbird who drives herself form Western NY to Florida and back every year who doesn’t need glasses for distance or reading.
My gas pedal to brake reflexes were the fastest of any of our 50 or so school bus drivers and I was in my 60s when they stopped testing us. They used to throw out some of my times because “I must have been guessing” even though I never red lighted.

The Buffalo News had an article a few years ago about a 102 year old Williamsville woman who still lived alone and drove to her 78 year old son’s house every day to fix him a hot meal.

My deepest sympathy for your Mothers premature death. That is why I start my M/T car in neutral. I have been drowned in safety and I am probably excessive. I now at only 64 years old realize I am not the driver I was in my 20s and know my limits. I hope I can continue for a few more years. If not I hope I realize when it’s time to hang up my keys.

My mom is 75 years old and is probably the safest and most careful driver I’ve ever known

Driving while old is not a crime

A lot of the older people I know are MUCH better drivers than some youngsters I know. I don’t see any older people texting or talking on the phone while driving. Yet that is a very common phenomenon, among younger drivers.


Oops! Here we go again. This hitting the wrong pedal relates to my belief that older people should be taught to brake with the left foot, assuming automatic transmission.

Older people may (or of course may not) lose track of exactly where their feet are, and thus simply think they are on the brake when they are on the throttle.

The only argument besides, well, we’ve always braked much as we always use qwertyuiop keyboards. Just cause, is that there are bad drivers who ride the brakes with left foot braking.

You can’t teach people not to ride the brakes when braking with your left feet, if you tell them not to brake with the left foot.

Contrary to those who have very fast throttle-to-brake responses, braking with the left foot gives much faster response times.

In NYC commercial drivers are specially trained to use both feet. In other places it is allegedly illegal to do it. This is one of the last blue laws.

We had a Somali lady (middle age) do the same thing to a store downtown. Hit the gas, jumped the sidewalk, and into the store front. No one injured though. Someone tried to take out the Chinese restaurant too before that but I don’t recall the particulars of the driver. I guess we just need to realize that driving is dangerous regardless of a person’s age.

Maybe if they drove manuals it would be safer.

I know the DMV tests the older drivers more frequently here in CA. Also their family doc could cancel their license. It should be part of their yearly physical to go through their reflexes/etc.

The problem is that without a car for the most part when you can not drive, you are stuck at home.

My parents, now in their 80’s gave up driving quite a few years ago. Dad can’t see and mom can not put up with other driver’s craziness; at least that is what she says.

Uber has been somewhat of a lifesaver as of recent. They can at least go to doctor’s visit/grocery shopping and is cheaper than a cab ride.

I also gotta say, I have read quite a few younger drivers driving in stores or crowds, so it is no age only.

Man is THIS a can of worms! There is serious resistance on the part of older drivers to relinquish the wheel and for good reason. They’ve built their lives around the car and do not wish to change as they approach the age that they should no longer drive. And that age is different for everyone. You can be 60 and and be impaired enough to give up driving. Or you can be 95 and be completely competent behind the wheel. Heck I now of a 72 year old man that won a national championship sports car title! States are loathe to put ANY restrictions on older drivers because they vote! The other problem is that if ALL drivers were tested on a regular basis, a significant percentage of drivers of every age would fail. It makes it very tough if not impossible for families to yank Dad’s license when the time comes.

Two examples in my family; My grandmother never drove. She lived in a apartment on a bus line specifically for that reason. At 72 she entered a senior living complex that provided transportation. Problem solved. She got along quite well without a car or a resident driver for many years because she planned ahead.

My mother, however, did not have a license until after my father died and she no longer had a chauffeur. She was adamant about getting a license at 62 because she was not willing to change her habits. She barely got a license as she was a terrible driver. As she passed 72 years old, her driving skills reduced to the “Ray Charles” parking method. Inch forward until you hit something. Her neighbors were afraid of her and begged me to take away her license. My state made that essentially impossible. I told them to call the police every time she hit one of their cars. We finally placed her in senior living as her health failed. Fortunately before she killed herself or someone else.

Its a very hard problem to solve if the driver is not willing to solve it for themselves and virtually impossible to legislate.

Circa 2008, I was riding in my friend’s Accord and we were T-boned as we were about to exit from a gas station. No, we weren’t merging onto the roadway. We were still at least 10 feet from the curb when a crazy 40-ish year old woman driving a Lexus Rx careened off of US Route 1, drove over the curb onto the gas station property, and T-boned us. The cops estimated that she was probably going at about 25-30 mph when she hit us.

Needless to say, the Accord was totaled, but–luckily–its design protected us from injury. Thank God that she didn’t hit a gas pump!

When the cop questioned the woman, she stated, “The harder I pressed on the brake, the faster it went”.
The cop looked at her, and said, “Yeah, that’s what happens when you mistake the gas pedal for the brake”.

@irlandes - Contrary to your assertion, all reflex testing has shown that, with few exceptions, right foot braking (assuming that is your gas pedal foot) is FASTER then two foot braking. This has to do with the physiology of two foot braking requiring communication between both sides of the brain. This takes longer than the processing required to use a single foot and therefore only one side of the brain is involved. I wouldn’t have believed it but I have tried the reflex test in a driving simulator and watched others try it as well. Nobody that I observed, including myself, had better times using two feet.

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I can appreciate that older drivers don’t want to give up their mobility but aging degrades our vision and reflex times. The problem is not necessarily older drivers but bad drivers and many of us good drivers become bad drivers as we age.

Two observations - 1) Not getting into an accident is not the only measure of how good you are as a driver. Many bad drivers cause accidents that they drive away from without a scratch. 2) Older drivers almost never perceive that their driving skills are diminished. My father (80 years old) was once a GREAT driver and now he is a menace. In his opinion his skills are not diminished. I have sat in his car. I would say that his perception, like many aging folks, is completely biased and he is offended that none of us children will ride with him now.

The reality is that we need better and more regular testing of ALL drivers to maintain driving privileges. Better and periodic testing will catch more bad drivers and weed out any aging drivers who no longer have peripheral vision, sufficient reflexes, or overall vision that make driving a dangerous endeavor for them and those traveling on the road with them.


In Illinois, a drivers license is good for four years for age 60 something to 79, then two years 80 to 86, then every year after 87. Requires in person visit, with vision test and a road test.
Every administration has to walk a fine line; you are dealing with the age bracket where EVERY one votes, and they do not want to feel picked on.

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We had to take away my mother-in-laws car years ago. And in reality we probably should have a couple years earlier. I understand they don’t like it, but it’s for their safety and everyone’s else on the road.

Sorry. Fake news. It takes at least two weeks to retrain the brain. So, of course if you take people who always brake with their right foot and test them, they are slower. Try it again with those who have been braking with their left foot for a long time.

In close calls, I have the car half stopped while you right foot brakers are still moving the foot over.

Stop and think what we are talking about… Old people who get confused which pedal their right foot is on, and thus kill people, and you are still concerned about response time? Totally strange.

Also, I have noticed that many people on this board have no problem condemning old people to a horrible life when it is not necessary. If an old person is really a danger, fine. But, to do it when left foot braking will solve the problem is vicious.

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Before you (some of you) begin beating up on older drivers and trying to make us jump through hoops, you may want to look at this chart of auto accidents by age. There are countless others that show similar distributions.

Whatever the solution, this is a subject where your views change as you yourself become the old person everyone else is talking about. Just like every other 70+ person, I was younger once, and things seemed so much simpler. Now, not so simple. The only thing I can imagine that could happen, given politics and government finances, is some sort of testing device that a driver would have to pass, attached right onto the car, before the engine would start.

Some states are experimenting with a breathalyzer that you have to blow into before the car will start, and they use it as part of the probation for a repeat offender. Sure, you can beat the system by using a different car, or getting your kid to blow into the thing for you, but that requires a bit of planning. Lots of drinkers just don’t think ahead that far, and if the thing keeps a few off the road, great.

So, some sort of video test that requires that the driver respond to cues and operate controls at a certain degree of accuracy could help. And it’s possible that even the challenge of starting and running the test itself could disqualify some drivers.

Anyone can hit the gas instead of the brake. Many years ago a young gal was leaving the side street our church was on, roared out to the main street and swerved into a concrete wall. She was OK, the car was not. She told the cops the brakes did not work, they pressed on the brake pedal and it was solid. They figured she hit the gas and panicked. So young and old can make the same mistake.

Peripheral neuropathy can creep up on people with borderline type 2 diabetes. When wearing work boots I am unable to feel the difference in stepping on the brake pedal and the accelerator. And while that hasn’t resulted in any serious problems I have occasionally let my foot slip off the brake pedal when stopped while wearing boots. Luckily my habit of stopping several feet behind the car ahead has allowed me to avoid an accident.

It’s far more likely for a driver to hit the brake AND the gas together in an emergency situation if the driver’s muscle memory is developed around braking with the left foot. We’ve had this debate before. This is bad driving practice.

With respect, irlandes, I was taught many years ago how bad this practice is and I still these many years later believe braking with the left foot to be a bad practice.

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