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SFPD Sends 86-Year-Old Driver On Her Way After She Injures Mom and Child

SFPD returned an 86-year-old driver (left) to her SUV after she hit a mother and child in a crosswalk outside the Stonestown Galleria. Images: KTVU
Images: KTVU

An 86-year-old driver hit a 45-year-old mother and her 5-year-old daughter in a crosswalk yesterday at 20th Avenue and Buckingham Way, outside the Stonestown Galleria mall. According to KTVU, the driver was taken away in an ambulance "for an undisclosed ailment" but was soon returned to her SUV to drive home. The police said "they didn't need to impound the vehicle because they have the evidence they need to investigate."

The child was reportedly sent to the hospital with a life-threatening head injury, and the mother suffered a broken arm. They were in a crosswalk at an intersection with four-way stop signs, where pedestrians always have the right-of-way, according to California law.

With an aging population in car-dependent areas, California cities have seen many cases of elderly drivers causing injuries and property damage, often reporting losing control of their vehicles while attempting to park. But like most drivers who hit pedestrians when they were sober and stayed on the scene, they're rarely known to face a license suspension, let alone citations or charges.

In December 2013, a 74-year-old driver was attempting to park on Jackson Street in Chinatown when she suddenly accelerated and plowed into a car, a power pole, and two people, killing 84-year-old neighborhood activist Isabell Huie. In 2011, a driver in his 70s jumped the curb and smashed into Naan N' Curry restaurant on Irving Street in the Inner Sunset.

In Menlo Park last January, a 90-year-old driver jumped a curb and pinned two 6-year old boys against a wall. The driver's license had already been suspended pending a re-examination, and he responded to a lawsuit from the family by accusing the children of "reckless and negligent behavior."

Last July, a 90-year-old driver attempting to park on University Avenue in Palo Alto drove into five people sitting outside a cafe. And in San Rafael in 2013, a 93-year-old driver was captured on video accelerating in reverse down a sidewalk toward two guide dog trainers and a guide dog, who jumped out of the way just in time.

The American Automobile Association's website notes the risks of progressive cognitive impairment that seniors face, including slowed reaction time, which can affect their ability to operate a multi-ton motor vehicle.

“While safe driving is a function of ability not just age, older drivers and their families need to be mindful that as the body ages, medical conditions including visual and cognitive impairments become more prevalent, so it’s critical to understand how these changes can affect a person’s ability to drive safely," AAA Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research Jake Nelson said in a press release last year. “Data tell us that Americans know they need to begin the discussion but often don’t know how."

But Nelson has also defended the safety record of senior drivers as a whole. In a 2013 press release, he said that "the silver tsunami is often unfairly dubbed as risky and dangerous," and that "drivers in their mid-to-late 80s have lower crash rates per mile driven than drivers in their early 20s and roughly half the crash rate of teenagers.”

The CA Department of Motor Vehicles requires drivers over the age of 70 to take a vision and written test when they renew their licenses, which is required every five years. But behind-the-wheel tests aren't required unless a re-examination is ordered.

Re-examinations can be ordered if a driver is reported as an unsafe by a police officer, physician, a DMV employee, or others. They'll also be triggered once a driver accrues enough license points to be considered a “negligent operator” -- four points within a year, or six in two years. But one-point violations include at-fault collisions and charges such as vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence (gross negligence is two) -- the same as any traffic citation.

SFPD hasn't responded to a request on whether the driver in yesterday's crash could face license suspension, charges, or be required to undergo a re-examination.

No plans for safety improvements are known at the intersection where yesterday's crash occurred. The Stonestown Galleria, surrounded by an often-clogged parking lot on the southwestern corner of the city, installed a raised crosswalk in 2011 near the intersection of 20th and Winston Drive.

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