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Activity 4 – The Elderly Driver

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The Elderly Driver


It was late in the afternoon on a sunny April day.  Maybe it was the sun in her eyes, but 82-year-old Janet found herself in her car in a ditch at the side of the road, unsure of how she got there.  Once at the hospital, her son and daughter joined her and heard the good news that Janet had escaped with just a broken arm.  The police report strongly suggested that she swerved off the road, but it was not clear why.


This was not Janet’s first driving “episode”; in fact, her driving had been a constant worry to her daughter for over two years.  Her daughter often offered to take her Mom shopping and insisted that she do the driving when they were together.  “Don’t you trust me?” was the only thanks the daughter received.   When alone, Janet continued to drive herself, staying off the freeway and increasingly driving only during the day.  She knew it wasn’t as easy as it used to be, but it was her lifeline to independence. 


The, a few months after the April accident, the form for Janet’s license renewal arrived.  A vision test and a physical exam were required, along with a doctor’s certification that Janet was in good health and capable of driving; however, no road test was required. So Janet made the doctor’s appointment and at the end of it she left with the forms with a note for the doctor saying, “To the best doctor I’ve ever had.  Thanks for filling this out. You know how much driving means to me.”


On Janet’s way home from the doctor’s office, it happened.  She was driving down the road when suddenly she was crossing that tallow line and heading toward an oncoming car.  The teenage driver might have been going a bit too fast, or even texting, but Janet was in the wrong lane and the head-on collision killed the 16 year old in the passenger seat who was also not wearing a seat belt.  The 18-year-old driver walked away from the accident unharmed, thanks to an inflated airbag.


Janet was never the same emotionally.  And despite escaping the accident with a few bruises, the loss of her driver’s license symbolized the end for her.  Those lost weekly shopping trips and the strangers in the Assisted Living Center were not the same as living in her own home.  The young man in the accident screaming for help woke her up almost every night.  It was only a year after the accident when Janet died, and it was just like she had said:  “Take my license away and it will kill me.”


Discussion Questions


Please discuss and highlight the role of the various stakeholders in this case.


How does this case reflect the important issue of balancing the legal rights of the individual and the rights of society as a whole?


How could we address the larger issues presented in this case from a community health perspective?  How can we change this health behavior?


How could we address the larger issues presented in this case from an environmental and occupational health perspective?  What would be the different environments we would look to either change or improve?


What would be the data that we would want to collect from this case study?  What information or importance would each bit of data collection provide?


Create several health policies and/or laws that emerged from this case.


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