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Crash shows problem of too-old drivers

SHARE Crash shows problem of too-old drivers

MANTI — An accident last August that was tragic both for the 87-year-old driver and the woman he struck and killed highlights the problem of identifying elderly drivers who should no longer be on the roads.

Miles Vernon Draper was driving his 1979 Lincoln along a sparsely traveled street in Mt. Pleasant, Sanpete County. Madge Snedgar, 64, was walking down the middle of the street. Because she was deaf, she couldn't hear Draper's car approaching her from behind.

Draper's car knocked the woman down and ran over her. Draper later told his attorney he thought he had hit a post or other object in the road. After the accident, he continued to his home.

Last month, Draper, who had a valid driver's license at the time of the accident, pleaded guilty to one count of negligent homicide, a Class A misdemeanor in 6th District Court in Manti. By the time the case came to court, Draper was confined in a care center in Nephi for a serious heart ailment, so he entered his plea by written affidavit.

In a signed statement, he said that his physical condition, including his eyesight, "was such that I could not adequately see objects ahead of me in the road."

"I should have been aware that continuing to drive a motor vehicle under those circumstances created a substantial and unjustifiable risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident where someone else could be seriously hurt or killed," the statement said.

"It's sad, it's unfortunate, it shouldn't happen," says Judy Hamaker-Mann, director of the Utah Driver's License Division.

But under state law, and as a practical matter, ceasing to drive when one is no longer capable "really is self-control," she says. "We hope families are around to assist."

Robert Parenti, director of the Utah Safety Council, agrees. "It's basically a subjective type of thing that's left up to the individual and the family," he said.

Utah drivers' licenses expire every five years. Up to age 65, a driver with a good record is required to come into a testing station for every other renewal only, or every 10 years. After age 65, the driver must appear in person for every renewal, Hamaker-Mann notes.

But in most cases, if a driver hasn't had any citations, he or she completes only a medical questionnaire and eye test. No driving test is required.

The Driver's License Division encourages doctors to send in reports on patients they believe shouldn't be driving, Hamaker-Mann says. Police officers and families can also call in reports. If the division receives a report, it calls the driver in for a written, eye and/or driving test. Some seniors voluntarily surrender their licenses, Hamaker-Mann says. When they do, the division issues them state IDs at no charge.

At the other extreme, she says, are cases where families have taken away a relative's license and keys and tried to sell the car but haven't been able to prevent the person from driving.

The maximum penalty for a Class A misdemeanor is one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. But in Draper's case, Sanpete County attorney Ross Blackham recommended no jail time or fine.

Any restitution, he said, would be "determined in a separate civil action" that Snedgar's children might file. So far, there is no record of a civil lawsuit being filed in Sanpete County.

"Should I impose sentence and suspend it, or just not impose it?" Judge David Mower asked Blackham.

"There's not even any point in imposing sentence, your honor," Blackham replied.

Snedgar's son, David Frye of Pleasant Grove, who was in court, said, "The family wouldn't be interested in that, either."

Before being placed in the care center, Draper was a lifelong resident of Mt. Pleasant who worked for the railroad, says Mt. Pleasant Mayor Chesley Christensen, who has known the family for years.

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