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August 3, 2010 - 1:07pm

To drive or not to drive? That is the question (for senior citizens)...

posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, driving, senior citizens.

Watch out for the little old man hobbling along with his walker the next time you're at the store -- he could be dangerous.

Dangerous on the road, that is.

Batavia resident Catherine Roth said she has seen a number of people out in public -- most of them senior citizens -- who drive even though they shouldn't.

"I once saw this man who could barely walk, and he's got an SUV!" Roth said.

Roth is well-known in Batavia for voicing her concerns about elderly drivers. This started with the death of her 30-year-old son almost 20 years ago.

Jim Roth was killed in October 1991 by an 81-year-old man driving the wrong way on Route 481 in Syracuse.

Catherine and her husband, who died two years ago, both worked hard to toughen the rules regarding elderly citizens on the road. Roth defends her position by citing laws in other states -- including "Katie's Law" in Texas, and a New Hampshire law requiring drivers over 65 to be tested every five years -- that regulate and limit senior drivers.

She has caught wind of some resistance to her efforts among Batavia's older population, but she sticks to her guns nonetheless.

"We have all these laws for young drivers," Roth said, "but when we talk about laws for elderly drivers, forget it!"

The trouble is, Roth has come to the point where she herself might have to surrender her place behind the wheel. She will be 90 years old soon, and has concerns about whether or not she should still be driving.

"I've been thinking about giving up driving for the past several years," she said. "When I realized I would be turning 90 and that my license was going to expire (this month), I realized I had to decide whether to renew the license or quit driving."

Roth said she doesn't have any specific problems that compromise her ability to drive safely, but she worries that "reaction time" might slow with age.

"Right now I drive as little as possible," she said. "I drive to Stafford three or four times a week to work at the museum. Everone who's rode with me has said I'm a good driver. But I've already begun to explore different ways of getting around (like taking a taxi)."

Roth actually asked to be re-tested to see if her driving skills were up to par -- her request was denied.

At this point in time, New York State has no system set up for that sort of thing. Re-taking the driver's test is only possible for those who have been reported.

This is an important issue for Roth, because better testing for senior drivers is one of the reforms she and her husband pushed for over the years.

"A lot of times, all it seems to depend on is eyesight," she said. "If someone's eyesight is good, he can mail in his license and get it renewed. That's just wrong!"

She then pointed out that the person in question could have very good eyesight, but at the same time barely have the ability to walk.

Sometimes, according to Roth, even a doctor's caution is unhelpful.

"If their doctor tells them they shouldn't drive, they'll go to a different doctor."

Roth understands seniors' reluctance to give up their licenses and, by extension, their independence.

"I've been without a car for the past week, and it's been driving me nuts!" she said.

Most of Roth's friends are in their 80s and in the same boat. She is far from unsympathetic to the tough decision facing older drivers.

"I know you want your independence -- but darn it, don't kill my son or anyone else."

She shared some recommendations for seniors who would like to continue driving, but not be a danger to other drivers: don't drive at night; avoid streets near schools around the end of the school day; and avoid big cities.

In addition, she listed some decent alternatives to driving for seniors who still need to get around.

"The Office for the Aging has some good programs," she said. "And you can take a taxi in Batavia for about $5. And then there's always the option of turning to friends, but you try not to bother people for little things.

"It's best to do all of your errands in one trip (so you don't have to call your friends whenever, for instance, you need some milk). You try to keep your independence, even if you have to be dependent in some ways."

 ADDITIONAL FACTS ABOUT ROTH:

Roth is on the Board of Trustees for the Stafford Historical Society, and just finished -- after nine years -- serving on the Board of Trustees for Batavia's First Presbyterian Church. She is also a volunteer at the Batavia Cemetery.

A most interesting fact about her is that she is a triplet. She and her two sisters will be celebrating their 90th birthday very shortly.

"As far as we know, we're the oldest living triplets in the United States," Roth said.

Elizabeth Downie
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I agree with you 100%, Catherine!! I don't understand what NYS's problem is. It would save lives, it would reduce stress on the road, and it would generate money (from the retests) for the State. Again, I think it is a fantastic idea!
Laura Langmaid
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Catherine, how right you are.. NY needs something in place for the senior drivers as they do for the younger people...As a public busdriver I do see the near mishaps with the elderly as well as the younger drivers...There is always the defensive driving courses that are offered to all drivers to reduce your insurance or take points off your license..These courses should be mandatory to drivers 65 and older...After taking the course once you actually take notice of how you drive..As far as transportation for the elderly---take the bus...
Frank Bartholomew
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The police should tackle this problem with the same efforts used to combat drunk driving. The reason this won't happen, is because there isn't enough money coming back to the state,a DWI conviction generates all kinds of monies. Court fines, DMV fines, probation supervision fees, Unified Court systems surcharges, alcohol rehab.. How much will the state get for charging some senior citizens with reckless driving? This is New York State, if there isn't something in it for the state, it's probably not going to happen. This is not to say I don't think this is a problem, as I agree with any ideas that will make driving safer for all.
Mark Potwora
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I agree also...I just had a 75 year old woman pull in front of me ..Totaled my car..She was ticketed..She still claimed it wasn't her fault..I often see that if its and elderly person they aren't issued a ticket when they are at fault..I demanded to the State Trooper that she be given a ticket..
Irene Will
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I get it, Catherine - as my father used to say - "Do as I SAY, not as I DO" .......
Kelly Hansen
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As I posted on Facebook: Giving up your independence is a very difficult thing and people who should no longer drive are usually losing control of many other things in their lives. I also know many young people who have cut me off, nearly run me over while crossing a neighborhood street and igore basic traffic laws. I was hit head-on by a drunk driver in his 20's several years ago - the car was totalled and thank God I was not. He not only fled the scene of the accident, he also turned himself in long after they could check his BAC. This was his second similar offense within a year. I can only imagine how much it would cost to re-test everyone on a regular basis, but it certainly would be a good idea for mandatory refresher courses - such as taking the 55 Alive class. The recent accidents in the news seem to be not the fault of senior citizens, but newer drivers recently out of driver's ed/mandatory classes/driver's test. We're no longer of the age where there is one car per family and many more cars are on the road. I suggest you notice while you are driving in parking lots, the NYS Thruway, other expressways and local streets who cuts you off, pulls in front of you, exceeds the speed limit, is talking on the cellphone, etc. and make note of the age. I would suggest it is not the senior citizen who is the most offensive of drivers. Everyone needs to be careful and practice defensive driving.
Jason Crater
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I would support any law requiring recertification for Senior drivers.
william tapp
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i see people of all ages pull out in front of me all the time, its not all ways the elderly , the most people see every day is teen drivers .most elderly people drive ok
Steve Ognibene
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Catherine Roth is an exceptional lady. She taught many of us kids during the 70-80's swimming at her house and I have many fond memories of that. I was curious when is her 90th b-day? Will there be a public celebration? I would love to attend.
Dave Olsen
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The 90 year old triplet thing is pretty interesting on its own. They may well be the oldest set of living triplets. Congratulations and many more to Mrs. Roth and your sisters.
ronald Komar
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problem is Catherine is just plain wrong..I would be interested in what she thinks NY has in place for young drivers especially in light of the crash on Aug.7 Because someone has physical problems with walking dosen't make him unable to drive,I personally drive with hand controls because I can't walk and I can bet (and win)that I drive better than 90% of the so called good younger drivers,,,that biggest problem with young people is the inability to make sound decisions and that problem seems to be into the 40 yr'old bracket also

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