Fatal crash fuels elderly-driver debate in Minnesota

| 9/12/2003

A Minnesota legislator has called for more stringent rules on senior drivers following a deadly accident that claimed the lives of an elderly couple killed when their car collided with one driven by an 88-year-old woman.

Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Wilmar, told The Brainerd Daily Dispatch senior drivers should be subject to more testing, such as eye exams, and written and road tests.

Charles, 90, and Hertha Zimmer, 89, were killed Aug. 31 in one of a string of crashes allegedly caused by Mary Kirkeby, 88, of Falcon Heights, MN.

Kirkeby apparently left a Roseville drug store and backed into two cars, over shrubbery, a sidewalk and a curb before stopping in traffic, the newspaper reported. When a witness approached, asking Kirkeby if she was OK, she suddenly accelerated away.

The car crossed four lanes of traffic, jumped a curb, careened back into oncoming traffic, and smashed into the passenger side of the Zimmers’ car. The couple died at the scene.

Johnson, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said the day after the accident that he anticipated calling a hearing about senior drivers, as well as public safety in general, when lawmakers return to the capital next month.

“I’m not centering in because an 88-year-old woman had an accident and two people were killed,” he said. “It’s a larger issue.”

Minnesota’s 3.65 million licensed drivers must renew their licenses every four years. The only requirements are to pass a vision test and take a new driver’s license photo. About 509,000 of those drivers are 65 or older.