9 Investigates: Elderly drivers on Charlotte roads

by: Peter Daut Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Just a few months into their marriage, Nick and Brittany Schmidt have already made good on their vows to love each other in sickness and in health.
 
“Having to help bathe, help transport to the shower, help get on and off the toilet,” Brittany Schmidt said.
 
The two were doing yard work at their Kannapolis home in May, when a truck, driven by their 97-year-old neighbor, suddenly plowed right into them.
 
Within seconds, Brittany Schmidt's leg was impaled by the truck's bed railing. Nick Schmidt's  femur and scapula were broken.
 
“It's wild how stuff happens so quick, and you have no time to think,” Nick Schmidt said.
 
The couple said they've forgiven their elderly neighbor, whose foot accidentally got stuck on the gas pedal.
 
He was never charged.
 
The Schmidts do not think he should have even been behind the wheel.
 
“It comes down to the family being able to take the keys away, and him accepting it,” Nick Schmidt said.
 
North Carolina had nearly 177,000 drivers over the age of 80 in 2012.
 
That number jumped to roughly 192,000 in 2013.
 
In Mecklenburg County, the number of drivers over 80 climbed from about 11,600 in 2012 to 12,500, last year.
 
Cory Moore said he was rear-ended at a stop light by an elderly driver.

 
He said the man did not understand what happened and appeared to have dementia.
 
“He was definitely confused. And he actually had paint on his car where he had hit something earlier that day, that's what the police said,” said Moore.
 
Crashes like this involving drivers 80 and older climbed in Charlotte from 344 in 2012 to 399 in 2013, including two with serious injuries.
 
“I just feel like they should be reevaluated. I feel like there's going to be more accidents, and it's definitely a danger to everyone on the road,” Moore said.
 
Attorney Brad Smith said most of the crashes he sees involving the elderly are minor and he does not support stiffer regulations based on age.
 
“This segment of the population doesn't speed, they just generally drive their automobiles a lot safer, so I’m not willing to jump to a conclusion yet,” Smith said.
 
In North Carolina, drivers 66 and older are required to renew their license every five years; for other drivers, it's every eight.
 
States like Texas and Iowa require drivers over 85 to renew them every two years.
 
California and Pennsylvania require that doctors report patients with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
 
North Carolina law only encourages doctors to do so.
 
The DMV said most elderly drivers are only required to take the standard vision and sign tests, not road tests.
 
“We at that time make a decision whether we want to do some additional testing, which includes road testing,” DMV district supervisor Phyllis Young said.
 
Nick and Brittany Schmidt said they're proof lawmakers need to toughen North Carolina’s license-renewal laws for the elderly.
 
“It's critical that they do, because we're very lucky to be here and this could be someone else,” Brittany Schmidt said.