The tough talk: A conversation with older parents, grandparents about driving

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Monday, October 12, 2015
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Many are hesitant about giving up their license and independence but at times it is necessary

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- It's a nightmare scenario for adult children: Accidents that happen when their parents mistake the gas pedal for the brake, like what happened in August when an older driver crashed her car into a Goodwill store in southwest Houston.

Or if they are behind the wheel on medication. Just last month a 68-year-old Conroe man was charged with intoxication manslaughter when he ran a red light and allegedly killed a family of four. He was on medication that had been prescribed to him.

Other recent accidents where buildings were hit or that were caused by wrong-way drivers have had people of "a certain age" behind the wheel.

Which can lead to another nightmare scenario for adult children: a talk to mom, dad or a grandparent about giving up their license.

"If you hint around as a family person, 'I think it's about time to give your privilege up,' you're going to have some issues," Texas State Trooper Richard Standifer told abc13. "It's a big, big, issue. Some of them see their freedom to move about freely is gone. And that's a big issue."

In Texas last year, 11,398 drivers who were 79 and older who were in a crash. In most of those crashes, no one was injured, but still, there were dozens of fatalities.

Harris County Precinct 6 Constable Heliodoro Martinez said it a difficult time when it came time to have a conversation with his father about giving up the car keys.

"He was very prideful on being independent and providing for my mother and all of us," Martinez said. "Of course, I was the oldest son, so I was elected to have that talk with him."

An abc13 analysis of crash data over the past five years in Harris County found almost 50,000 accidents caused by drivers 65 and older and more than 7,000 accidents with someone 79 and older behind the wheel.

One of those drivers was 105 years old.

"Older drivers as they age, it's very very gradual," Standifer said. "They don't see as well they don't hear as well they don't react as well."

And older drivers should know there are a few different rules for them that are relatively new on the books.

"It used to be that you could get your driver's license renewed once and that probably would last you a lifetime," Standifer said. "That changed when a little girl by the name of Katie Bolka was struck by a 90 year old."

Katie Bolka was just a final exam away from the start of her 2006 summer vacation and driving close to her Dallas home when the 90-year-old driver slammed into Bolka's car.

The next year Katie's law was implemented. That means drivers 79 and older are not allowed to renew their licenses by mail or Internet. They also must submit to a mandatory vision test. And drivers 85 and older need to renew their license every two years, rather than six.

"A lot of times these older drivers they get behind the wheel because they feel it;s a burden to ask anybody else to take them anywhere," Martinez said. "If you have a mother or father who are already up there in age, you just need to make sure that any of their transportation needs are met if you don't want them on the road."

Starting Monday at 4pm, abc13 is featuring a week-long series of reports about older drivers and the best way to prevent accident as well as ways to communicate with parents or grandparents about driving.

Tune in.

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