Francine Schenkel, an 87-year-old resident of Ridge, New York, died in July 2014 after the car she was driving veered off the road and crashed into a tree. Quoted in NY Newsday, police officials investigating the accident surmise that Schenkel was traveling northbound on Rocky Point-Yaphank road when she crossed into the southbound lane and veered off into the woods where she hit a tree. Schenkel was the only person involved in the accident, which occurred at 2:45 p.m. near Rocky Point High School, and was pronounced dead at the scene. Her vehicle was impounded for safety checks as investigators try to determine the cause of the accident, which shut down the roadway for several hours.
Detective Sergeant William Bundrick stated that it didn’t appear that the elderly woman was trying to swerve to avoid hitting something on the road. He stated, “She apparently left the roadway on her own. No one drove her off the road or cut her off or anything. We don’t know if it was a medical emergency.”
According to the National Institute of Health, elderly drivers often face several health-related challenges that can affect their ability to drive safely. For instance, as people age, their vision usually worsens. They may not be able to see cars or pedestrians from their peripheral vision; their eyes may not adjust to darkness or glaring headlights, making it difficult to drive at night. In addition, elderly people may suffer from hearing loss, making it difficult to hear sirens or horns that may be warnings of an impending collision.
Moreover, as drivers get older, they may experience slower reaction times and shorter attention spans; elderly drivers may suffer from a decline in cognitive function, making them slow to process multiple sources of information which can be overwhelming. In addition, taking multiple medications, including prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs, may also impair an elderly person’s ability to drive. For example, certain cold medications may make a driver drowsy, resulting in slow reaction times.
Certain medical conditions that usually affect the elderly may also impact a person’s ability to drive safely. For example, Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary shaking, may make it difficult for an elderly driver to apply to brakes or hold the steering wheel. A person who has suffered from a stroke may have difficulty controlling their arms and legs and may become easily confused. In addition, arthritis, which affects a person’s joints, may make it difficult for an elderly person to hold the steering wheel or turn their head to view traffic and pedestrians. Finally, people with dementia, especially in the early stages, may get lost or become easily confused. As people age, they should talk to their doctors about their medical conditions to learn how they may impact their ability to drive safely.