Elderly bus driver in 80 crash should not be behind wheel (Opinion)
Is this finally what it's going to take to wake New Jersey politicians up to the fact that elderly drivers are a problem in New Jersey? Miranda Vargas, a 10 year old girl who "left a spark everywhere" she went and who loved her family dearly, is dead. Jennifer Williamson, a 51 year old teacher who leaves behind the love of her life, is dead. Sofia Evelich, another 5th grader, lies in pediatric intensive care with severe head trauma while her family says she faces a "long and challenging road" ahead of her. Many other injuries.
Because a 77 year old school bus driver lost his way in trying to get to Waterloo Village on a field trip and did the unthinkable. Video shows the driver had missed his turn into Waterloo Village on 206 then gets onto 80 and immediately cuts almost perpendicularly across all lanes of traffic towards an emergency vehicle only cutaway in the median. Clearly posted are signs indicating No U-Turn. He cut right across the path of a dump truck in a center lane. Its driver tried desperately to avoid collision and could not. The crash was so violent first responders said they had never seen anything like it. Students and teachers were ejected from the school bus as it broke into pieces and the chassis tore away from the body. Some students were left hanging upside. There was death and injury and carnage everywhere.
The driver, 77 year old Hudy Muldrow Sr., has made no official statement. But reporters talked with his son Hudy Muldrow Jr. who at first told CBS his father told him he did not try to make an illegal U-turn but later told NJ.com he didn't know if his father tried to make a U-turn.
It's clear from the video that he was trying to do just that. But let's take that off the table for a moment, because does it even matter? He most definitely cut across all lanes of traffic in one fell swoop nearly perpendicular across the highway in total disregard for every life he was carrying. Or was he incapable of giving this any regard one way or the other? Had his age caught up to his mind? Is this what led to him missing his turn to begin with?
Beyond his age this driver had 8 speeding tickets between 1975 and 2001 and had his license suspended twice for administrative reasons and for not paying parking tickets. But the age in light of this accident is problematic. Should a safety sensitive job be given to a man near 80 years old? Are we going to continue to bury our heads in the sand and pretend like your reaction time and other skills never diminish with age?
We have long talked about close calls or worse with elderly drivers in the Garden State. 31 states now have some additional requirements for older drivers. Some as simple as no longer being able to renew by mail once over a certain age. Others are more strict. In Illinois drivers must take a road test and eye exam to renew a license starting at age 75. By age 81 drivers must renew every two years instead of four, and by age 87 they must renew annually.
There is no mandatory retirement age and no mandatory road re-testing to legally operate a school bus in New Jersey. I learned this when a 77 year old school bus driver and his 78 year old bus aide failed miserably in their jobs and left a special needs student locked on the bus at the end of their shift for 3 hours. There is a Medical Examiner's document you must turn in to renew your license to be a school bus driver, but that won't always catch things like reaction time or mental fog.
Commercial pilots have a mandatory retirement age of 65. There is a reason for that. But beyond the public safety aspect and precious cargo involved in the role of a school bus driver, I say it's time we did something about all elderly drivers in New Jersey. We are behind the majority of states that have at least somewhat addressed this important issue. Beyond a certain age testing one's reaction time and mental agility is as important as testing them on the road. All of this should be done beginning at age 75. If you insist this is age discrimination because a lot of 77 year olds can handle driving, ask yourself why it's not then age discrimination to set a minimum age to get a driver's license since after all a lot of 15 year olds could handle driving? No one is talking about a mandatory retirement age. Many of us simply believe to take good care of the elderly and others that there should be some form of re-testing and allow those who still can drive safely to do so.
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