Q: Last week while sitting in my vehicle waiting for my husband to come out from a doctor's visit, an elderly man hit the car while trying to park. When I got out to check on damage, he started pulling away. I approached him and he acted like he didn't even realize he had hit my car. At this point, he left and parked in another area of the lot. There were several people who witnessed the incident, people were yelling at him when he drove away. I called the police to report this incident, minimal damage was done but his confusion concerned me. My husband thought I overreacted and should have just forgotten about the incident. Did I do the right thing?
A: The issue of older drivers and their ability to remain behind the wheel keeps coming up during family discussions, in the media, and with our elected officials. This is an extremely sensitive subject, while many strongly believe the issue should not be about age alone, there have been numerous recent incidents causing death or other serious injuries that keep the debate relevant. It appears you reacted because of the man's confusion and not specifically because of his age.
First of all, you were correct in contacting the local police because the individual left the scene of an accident which most likely will result in his receiving a motor vehicle citation. Hopefully the citing officer will follow up with the Registry of Motor Vehicles which will assume responsibility for accessing the man's ability to safely remain behind the wheel of a car. Anyone can have an accident regardless of their age. The driver obviously didn't intentionally hit your vehicle especially since you stated further in your letter he was driving an expensive newer model vehicle. The question remains does he have the skills to drive and negotaite tricky challenges such as parking in small spaces but even more concerning is his obvious confusion demonstrated by the way he ignored you once he became aware of the accident. The fact he carried on as if nothing had happened is an indication he could not process an appropriate response. The confusion possibly is a bigger risk operating a moving vehicle than his declining skill level.
If you had chosen not to take action there is a question how long it would be before someone would realize there was a reason to evaluate his ability to drive or when he could have another accident and the next person may not be as lucky as you were. Don't second guess yourself nor let your husband sway you into thinking you overreacted. Hopefully this will be resolved in the best way possible. The elderly man may not be safe to continue driving or he may need to go through a refresher training course to improve his skills. There is an outside possibility the man may also have a cognitive condition that has gone undiagnosed so far.
Rosanne DiStefano works for Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and can be contacted at email@example.com.