Hello to my new readers! This site is a brand new blog connected to my law practice, www.kickhamlegal.com, and this post today is my ‘inaugural post,’ to open this blog. For almost a year now, I’ve already had a criminal law blog,and I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from my readers of that blog. It’s my hope that this new blog, dealing with only the legalities of personal injury actions in Massachusetts, and the legal rights of injury victims to recover damages for injuries they’ve suffered due to another person’s negligence, will bring my readers equally interesting and useful information.
So, let’s get to it: My first post on the subject of personal injury law in Massachusetts has to do with a fast-growing problem in this state, and across the nation: Elderly drivers and the often devastating injuries they (however unintentionally) cause in motor vehicle accidents. By the way, “elderly,” in the context of this post, means anyone 79 or older. (Sorry to any readers 79 or older, but a rose by any other name…)
Recently in Massachusetts, seven people were injured in Plymouth after a car driven by a 73-year-old woman jumped a curb and ran into a crowd gathered at a war memorial. It was the woman’s third accident since turning 70, authorities said. In Danvers, a 93-year-old man drove his car into the entrance of a Wal-Mart, injuring six people, after he mistook the gas pedal for the brake. Such Massachusetts car accidents can cause devastating injuries, including death. In my opinion as a Massachusetts car accident attorney, an elderly driver over the age of 85 poses just as deadly a threat when operating a motor vehicle upon the public roads, as does a drunk driver. That may sound severe, but it’s true. Road safety analysts predict that by 2030, when all baby boomers are at least 65, they will be responsible for 25% of all fatal crashes. In 2005, 11% of fatal crashes involved drivers that old.
Massachusetts drivers must renew their licenses every five years, but are required to take an eye test only every 10 years. No particular or special testing at all is required for elderly drivers. That’s ridiculous – and deadly. Researchers say that drivers begin to pose a greater risk around age 70, with crash-rates increasing markedly after age 80. Most road-safety advocates agree that states like Massachusetts are not doing enough to deal with this problem, and urge at the very least, a requirement for more frequent in-person examinations for drivers over age 79. “There’s a political reluctance to even address the issue, but we can’t continue to ignore this,” said Peter Kissinger, president of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “We clearly know that as we age, our functional performance and cognitive abilities decline.”
That’s obvious, and in a few states, doctors are legally obligated to report when patients’ medical conditions pose a driving danger, but not in Massachusetts: Here, it is voluntary. The result? Almost all doctors don’t report anything to anyone about an elderly patient that they think might pose a safety risk when driving. The reason? Most doctors don’t want to, essentially, “rat” on their patient, or disturb the doctor-patient privilege. We logically require doctors to report other kinds of suspected risks to public safety authorities, such as child abuse or overt mental health issues a patient may have that could clearly pose a threat to the public. But if a doctor thinks his elderly patient may not be able to safely operate two tons of steel and glass on the public roads? “Don’t ask; Don’t tell” is the norm. As ridiculous as that is, it’s the truth.
Another reason no action has been taken? Politics. Advocates for the elderly have sharply opposed age-based oversight as “discriminatory,” and noted that the state prohibits age discrimination in licensing. But with more seniors on the road than ever before – people over 65 will make up 25 percent of all drivers by 2025, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety – calls are growing for more aggressive regulation. “The time is ripe for change,” said Rachel Kaprielian, Massachusetts Registrar of Motor Vehicles. While Governor Deval Patrick last week threw his support behind legislation that would require drivers 85 and older to pass a road test and eye test every five years to have their licenses renewed, that is a rather weak response, in my view. But at least it’s a start.
In my view as a Massachusetts car accident attorney, something needs to be done about this problem, and fast. Too many auto accidents, serious injuries and even fatalities are resulting due to inaction in this area. In my view as a personal injury lawyer who litigates cases every day involving serious injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents, persons between the age of 79 and 85 should be required to pass vision and motor skills tests administered by the RMV every two years in order to maintain their drivers licenses. After reaching the age of 85, I don’t believe people should be issued Massachusetts drivers licenses. The risk of serious injury and death, to both the elderly driver and innocent victims of motor vehicle accidents, is simply too great.
And for those who disagree, I have a 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?
Massachusetts public safety officials are fond of slogans: “Don’t Drink and Drive – Stay Alive”; Click It or Ticket” (Seat belts.) My solution: “It’s the law: If you’re over 85, you can’t drive.”