Preventing senior accidents due to bad driving

An 88-year-old man drives the wrong way on the interstate for two miles. An 83-year-old makes a U-turn that leads to a fatal motorcycle crash. A Biddeford man, 77, crashes his car into the entry doors of a supermarket. A 77-year-old man with a medical condition leads police on a slow-speed chase through Falmouth before he stops and backs into a cruiser.

That series of dangerous traffic mishaps occurred within a week in southern Maine, but these scenarios but just as easily could have happened anywhere in Massachusetts. In fact, in Danvers a few years back, a 93-year-old hit the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal, and landed inside a Wal-Mart injuring a mother and her infant child.

In 2009, there were 33 million licensed drivers ages 65 and older in the United States-a 23 percent increase from 1999 and a number that is rapidly growing. In 2008, more than 5,500 older adults were killed and more than 183,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes. This amounts to 15 older adults killed and 500 injured in crashes on average every day. Most traffic fatalities involving older drivers in 2008 occurred during the daytime (80 percent), occurred on weekdays (72 percent), and involved other vehicles (69 percent). The numbers are particularly daunting at a time when the U.S. Census Bureau projects there will be 9.6 million people 85 and older by 2030, up 73 percent from today. Road safety analysts predict that by 2030, when all baby boomers are at least 65, they will be responsible for 25 percent of all fatal crashes.

Massachusetts law now empowers certain health-care providers and law enforcement officers to file a report with the Registry of Motor Vehicles on any driver who they have reasonable cause to believe is not physically or medically capable of safely operating a vehicle. If the Registry receives a recommendation from a health-care provider or law enforcement official, the driver in question has 10 days to surrender his or her license or request a hearing. A health-care provider or law enforcement officer who reports in good faith is immune from civil liability that might otherwise result from making the report. A health-care provider or law enforcement officer who does not report is also immune from civil liability that might otherwise result from not making the report. A report to the registry is confidential and may be used by the registrar only to determine a person's qualifications to operate a motor vehicle. In addition to protecting doctors and law enforcement officials from civil liability, the law requires the registry to retest any driver who is cited for three significant moving violations within 24 months.

If you or anyone you know has suffered injury as the result of an elderly driver or any motor vehicle accident, please consult with an experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorney to adequately evaluate your case.