Stoughton, Massachusetts Car Accident Caused By Elderly Driver Turns Fatal: How Much Carnage Before We Act?

Timing is often an ironic thing. Less than 36 hours ago, on Saturday June 13, I opened this new personal injury law blog, with a post noting the growing – and deadly – problem of Massachusetts motor vehicle injuries caused by elderly drivers in this state. In that post, I made the argument that too many elderly drivers are on the road in Massachusetts, that many of such drivers are as dangerous and deadly as drunk drivers, and I proposed tough new laws to test and monitor every two years, all drivers between the ages of 79 and 85, and to then draw the line at age 85: No one aged 85 or older in Massachusetts should be issued drivers licenses.

Later that same day, tragically, a 4 year-old preschool girl by the name of Diya Patel was struck by an 89 year-old driver while in a crosswalk on Route 138 in Stoughton, Massachusetts. Mortally injured, bystanders including a nurse did all they could to help, as did paramedics who arrived as fast as they could. Clinging to life, the girl was airlifted to Tufts Medical Center in Boston, as her family prayed and hoped for her survival. Diya Patel died yesterday, Sunday. Her family, including her grandfather Govind Patel, who watched the preschooler run down and tossed 50 feet by the 89 year-old driver of the Toyota Camry that struck her, is beyond devastation.

“My granddaughter, very, very loved,” said Patel, who lives with his grandchildren in a modest apartment on Bennett Drive in Stoughton. “Very, very loved. Very, very sad.” The dead child’s father, Sanjay Patel, was too overcome with emotion to speak.

Meanwhile, three miles away, the woman (unnamed as yet by representatives from the Norfolk County District Attorney’s office) who was reportedly driving the car that killed this young girl , answered reporters at the door of her apartment in the Orchard Cove Continuing Care Retirement Community, by saying the following: “I’m refusing to say anything to any paper,” said the woman. “I have no . . . report.” Reporters, including the Boston Herald, know the woman’s name, but are withholding her identity until either the District Attorney’s office, or state authorities, release the name. Why they have not yet released it, is unclear as of the date and time of this post (Monday, June 15, 2009 at 12:50 AM EDT.)

When is the madness of state legislative inaction on this issue going to end? What will it take? To listen to the anemic, politically-calculated reactions of most legislators and state officials on this issue, is pathetic (God forbid they take a principled stand and alienate their senior voters.) One state legislator who has stood up with a proposal for action – a proposal I consider far too modest – is state Sen. Brian A. Joyce (D-Milton,) whose district, also ironically, includes the town of Stoughton where this incident occurred. His proposal would require “periodic” road testing for drivers over age 85 (“periodic” is not defined in his proposal, which would continue to allow persons over age 85 to drive.) That is far too weak and anemic a “response” to the threat this growing problem poses. To his credit, Joyce has acknowledged his proposal is “Too modest.”

And while we’re on that point, so was my own proposal, outlined in my previous post on this subject. That proposal was to require visual and motor skill road testing every two years of all Massachusetts drivers between the ages of 79-85. I now rescind that proposal, as also being too modest. At a minimum, all drivers seeking to obtain or renew a Massachusetts driver’s license, should be required to appear in person at a Registry of Motor Vehicles location to be tested for visual and motor skill road testing every year. I stand by my earlier proposal to outright ban Massachusetts drivers licenses to anyone in this state age 85 or older. I also reserve the right to add additional, stringent conditions to this proposal, as this issue develops.

On June 2, a 93-year-old man drove his car into a Wal-Mart in Danvers, injuring a mother and her 1-year-old baby. The next day, a 73-year-old Middleboro woman lost control of her minivan and plowed into a crowd gathered at a Vietnam War memorial in Plymouth, sending seven bystanders to the hospital. On June 5, an 84-year-old man slammed into a Somerset storefront. The response from state officials (the ones who count, who can make something happen if they really want to? Tepid. Muffled comments about ‘addressing the matter.’

Now a 4 year-old girl who was the light of her family’s life, lies in death – a death that never should have happened. A death that was entirely preventable – had state officials woken up earlier and grown a backbone over this issue. In my opening post to this new blog on Saturday June 13, I asked the rhetorical question, “Would the person who cares to be maimed or killed next on the road, or see a loved one seriously injured or killed, please raise their hand?”

Are you listening, Beacon Hill? Act — forcefully, and now. Or perhaps you or your loved one could be next.

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