New York City senior Sheila Kahn Prager has officially been charged and pleaded guilty to killing 17-year-old Madeline Sershen at a crosswalk in Whitestone earlier this year. The 88-year-old driver, who has glaucoma and a lengthy history of dangerous driving, not only admitted to her fault in the tragic incident but also agreed to help local petitioners work towards re-testing senior drivers over 80 bi-yearly.
• Prager careened through a red light on July 25, instantly hitting and fatally injuring Sershen as she stood inside the crosswalk. A statement from District Attorney Richard A. Brown explains that the octogenarian inexplicably “didn’t see the steady red light” or Sershen herself.
• It isn’t clear whether Prager missed the light and the teenager as a result of her vision or due to a lack of attention and focus on the road. Either way, the end result was that Sershen passed away a short time after the crash.
• As a result of the incident, Police charged the elderly senior with failure to yield, failure to exercise due care, and running a red light. Prager pled guilty to all charges, avoiding trial, but was forced to surrender her license and participate in a petition to force re-testing for seniors.
• Approximately 30 states regularly enforce re-testing of senior drivers after a certain age (usually around 65). However, New York is one of the few states that lacks an official legislation around the issue. Sershen’s death pushed local lobbyists into a fervor, encouraging them to finally seek justice.
• If the petition succeeds, it will bring New York in line with other states, requiring senior drivers to be retested at least once every two years to ensure their vision, memory, and reaction time is sufficient to drive. Seniors who do not meet the requirements may be forced to relinquish their licenses.
• The petition has significant local support from the Transportation Alternatives department. Legislative Director Marco Conner said, “It is an outrage that there is no punishment whatsoever. It’s a difficult balance between punishment ‘simply for retribution’ and imposing penalties that would deter others who should not be behind the wheel from driving.”
• Still, the fact that Prager had an accident which involved reckless driving just a year prior is a chilling reminder of what is at stake. We all want to drive well into our seniorhood, but we must also take personal responsibility and admit when it’s time to hang up the keys. The decision could very well be the difference between life or death – even for us, as drivers.