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100 too old to drive? Questions raised after crash

August 30, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
In the wake of a crash involving a 100-year-old driver in South Los Angeles, many are questioning whether someone that old should be allowed to drive. It'd be easy to blame it on his age, but experts say, not so fast.

Preston Carter backed out of a parking spot on Wednesday afternoon at 53rd and Main streets, and then drove straight into a group of adults and students from Main Street Elementary School. School had just let out shortly before the accident.

LAPD officials say Preston Carter has a current California driver's license with a clean driving record. He's also current on his vision and written test required every five years for drivers over 70 years old in California. When asked after the crash whether he should be driving, Carter said the DMV thinks so.

"They gave me [a] license," Carter said.

Jeff Spring of the Automobile Club of Southern California says statistically speaking, senior drivers are much safer than teen drivers, and 75-year-olds have the same crash fatality rate as 20-year-olds.

"Just because you're an older driver, doesn't mean you're a bad driver," Spring said. "These types of incidents are outliers, I would say, they're anomalies. They're not typical."

But experts say elderly drivers do have issues, including increased reaction time, vision problems and limited mobility. According to the MIT Age Lab, with every year after age 65, the odds of getting into a car crash while attempting a left turn increase by 8 percent.

Emergency officials said a total of 11 people were taken to area hospitals. Two adults and nine children were injured, including three 4-year-old boys and one 11-year-old boy. Most people were treated and released, officials said. Two children remained hospitalized overnight. Doctors said one child was being held for observation and the other was in critical but stable condition.

According to witnesses, Carter didn't hit the brakes until several people started pounding on his car, pleading with him to stop. By then, four people were pinned under the car, including Jacinda Jimenez, who was carrying her 1-year-old daughter.

"The next thing I knew, I was hit by a car and I was knocked over. The first thing that I did, I kind of threw my baby into the air so that the baby would not end up underneath the running car," Jimenez said through a translator. "I don't think a person of that age should be driving, you know, because it could have been worse. He could have killed a child."

The Los Angeles Unified School District said there were four crisis counselors made available to students on campus on Thursday. Staff also handed out flyers about a special parent meeting scheduled after school.

"We want to present the students with factual information as we do with our parents. That's why communication is always critical," said Rowena Lagrosa, an operations administrator with LAUSD.

The LAPD believes Carter mistakenly hit the gas pedal instead of the brake, but Carter's blue Cadillac will be checked for mechanical failures. Carter, who turns 101 in two days, is not facing any charges at this time. Authorities say alcohol did not play a role in this incident.

California is one of five states that require doctors to report people who are no longer able to drive safely. Experts also recommend that the public keep an eye out for elderly relatives and friends who may show decreased driving skills.


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