Thursday, February 9, 2017

Driving While Old

There are a couple of court cases making their way through the system this year that you may want to keep an eye on.  They both involve criminal charges filed against elderly drivers accused of causing crashes that involved deaths and serious injuries.  In a Marquette County case 90-year old Albert Sieg is charged in connection with a crash that saw him run over a married couple that were riding their bikes along the side of the road and then continuing to drive on.  The other is in Oconto County and involves 84-year old Dolly Yashinksy--who ran a stop sign and was broadsided by a car that had the right of way--killing her husband and two elderly friends.

The filing of criminal charges in each of these cases mark a departure from the attitude of the legal system to serious crashes involving older drivers.  For the most part, seniors who run stop signs, drive the wrong way on one-ways or divided highways or hit things and drive off not knowing anything had happened have been treated with kid gloves.  Families agree to take keys away.  Prosecutors say the offending drivers "have suffered enough".  And we all act like there is nothing wrong with having dangerous people behind the wheel just out there driving around.

The attorney for Yashinsky calls the filing of charges against his elderly client "cruel"--given her age and how much she has suffered.  But to his credit, Oconto County District Attorney Edward Burke is defending his decision by pointing out the simple truth: "You can't just arbitrarily draw a line based upon somebody's age".  If Yashinsky had been a 44-year old woman playing with the radio or talking on a cellphone and she ran that stop sign and charges were filed--nobody would bat an eye.  But because she is 84 and probably shouldn't have been behind the wheel we are to just excuse the same actions?

And what happens with these cases becomes more important every day, as Baby Boomers continue to age.  These are people who have been driving since they were 16.  They sang songs about their cars.  They had "special moments" in the back seats of their cars.  They have gone everywhere in their cars--and they will be the last people willing to give up their cars--even when it endangers the rest of society.  But maybe, if we get enough "driving while old" criminal cases--we might be able to talk some sense into them.

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