Earlier this month, Melissa Bonney Ratcliff, Vice President of Marketing & Events at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and a one-time aide to former Vice President Al Gore, was struck and killed by an out-of-control driver in La Jolla. She had parked in one of the diagonal parking spaces along Girard Avenue and was taking things out of her car when a 91-year-old driver across the street backed out of her space, crossed both lanes of traffic, and pinned Melissa between both cars. Melissa died shortly afterward at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla. Jerry Sanders, the chamber president and chief executive officer, reported the tragic accident in an email to chamber members. “Melissa was a well-respected and valued member of the Chamber team and will be missed by all of us,” he wrote. “We are all deeply saddened by her loss and send our thoughts and prayers to her family and friends.”

Melissa Bonney Ratcliff Image Courtesy of SDRCC
Melissa Bonney Ratcliff Image Courtesy of SDRCC

The circumstances of the accident are still under investigation, and while it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that “a 91-year-old shouldn’t be driving,” we don’t know what caused the car to careen across the street. The California DMV doesn’t restrict drivers automatically when they reach a certain age, but prefers to restrict driving as necessary based on limitations of capacity. The most common impairments have to do with vision, and that’s why drivers 70 and older have to go to the DMV in person to renew their driver’s license by taking the vision and written tests. The most frequent restrictions for a senior driver, according to the California Senior Driver section of the DMV website, are:
• No freeway driving.
• Driving a vehicle with an additional right side mirror.
• Driving from sunrise to sunset (no night driving).
• Time of day restriction (for example, not during rush hour traffic).
• Area restriction – local driving only
So a driver on Girard Avenue, just before noon, very likely running a local errand, could have been observing all the voluntary or mandatory restrictions typically placed on a driver of her age. Sometimes a tragic accident is simply a tragic accident.

Naturally, senior drivers want to preserve their independence, and driving is an integral part of that. The per-driver collision rate is lower than average for older drivers because they tend to be more aware of their limitations. Older drivers will drive less frequently, restrict their driving themselves, and figure out ways to compensate for declining skills. Unfortunately, the collision rates for older drivers start to approach those of teenagers, when accidents are divided by miles driven. In 2020, there will be 55 million people age 65 or older on the road. In California, the DMV can request a re-examination of a driver after receiving a report from any one of the following sources who observes evidence of potentially unsafe driving: a physician or surgeon; emergency medical personnel; family members, friends, or neighbors; a law enforcement officer; a driver who self-reports; a spotty driving record; a DMV employee.

There are ways for seniors to stay independent and to keep driving, despite the challenges of driving with the impairments caused by physical, mental and medication-induced issues. There are several adaptive devices for the vehicle such as turning knobs, seat belt adaptors, mirrors to minimize blind spots, and pedal extenders. There are also organizations like We get Around in San Diego, which connects older adults with the public and volunteer transportation services available. And there are all the benefits of personal home care, which includes not just driving and transportation to and from appointments, errands, shopping, social visits, but facilitating visits with family, friends, and neighbors, too. Aging in place in San Diego is all about staying connected to one’s family, friends, neighborhood and city, and a private companion from Casa Companion Homecare Solutions will ensure your loved one’s mobility.