Dementia, Aging and Driving: Managing Risks of Older Adult Drivers – Family

By Pamela D Wilson CSA, CG, MS, BS/BA

“God almighty, those poor people. Poor, poor, tragic people. And what a tragic ending to their outing, and I contributed to it, which is just almost more than I can figure out,” said George Russell Weller after his car stopped after veering out of control for nearly 1,000 feet leaving 10 people dead and more than 60 injured on July 16, 2003 in Santa Monica, California.1 He also reported that “something” smashed into his windshield and he had no idea what “it” was; “it” was the body of an innocent human bystander colliding with his car.

Three years later, on October 20, 2006, Weller was found guilty of 10 counts of vehicular manslaughter. He was ordered to pay $107,100 in fines and restitution and was sentenced to five years’ felony probation. As of May 22, 2008 the City of Santa Monica had paid out $21 million to settle dozens of civil lawsuits stemming from the case. 2

This presents a picture of what might happen when an older adult with multiple health conditions or a diagnosis of dementia continues to drive a motor vehicle. Very different from the humorous and heartfelt movie, Driving Ms. Daisy, (click player below for a trip down memory lane) older adults who choose not to give up the car keys have the potential of seriously harming themselves, other drivers or pedestrians.

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