Sep. 8, 2011 at 5:22 PM ET
The 84-year-old woman who struck Reese Witherspoon with her car while the actress was jogging across the street reportedly said her view was obstructed by a large tree in the intersection.
Reese, who won an Oscar in 2006 for her role as June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line,” suffered minor injuries and is resting at home. While many wished Reese a speedy recovery, some expressed sympathy for the elderly driver.
“One of the hardest things in the world is for an elderly person to give up their independence,” Kathie Lee Gifford said on TODAY Thursday. “I remember one of the hardest days for my dad is when we had to take the keys away.”
Los Angeles police cited the driver for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.
An incident like this can happen to any driver, experts say, but when it happens to an older driver, it prompts questions about whether it’s time to give up the car keys or at least have a conversation about it.
A person younger than 22 tends to have more accidents, and that number increases again starting at ages 65 to 75, says David Melton, managing director of Global Transportation Safety at Liberty Mutual Insurance. He adds there are indicators that it may be time to stop driving.
“Everybody ages differently, and I include myself in this because I just celebrated my 65th birthday, and I’ve already had this conversation with my wife and son and told them if I start to show reluctance to drive at busy times, in bad weather, if I don’t want to drive on freeways or if there are more dings in my car than there used to be, those are indicators.”
In a study released in January, scientists from the University of Rochester suggested older people have trouble driving because they have a heightened awareness of people and cars moving around rather than what’s right in front of them. In particular, drivers over 80 have an elevated crash risk when trying to deal with more complex road situations, such as intersections, left turns and reacting to an imminent crash, according to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The American Automobile Association estimates 37 million drivers will be 65 and older by 2020, and 90 percent of them will be licensed. Drivers 85 and older has surpassed 3 million.
Jodie Olshezki, a veteran gerontologist with The Hartford insurance company who has researched the issue with the Massachusetts Institute for Technology’s AgeLab, says “There’s no magic age when people become unsafe on the road. Older drivers are relatively safe. Usually, it’s an underlying health issue that causes people to have accidents.”