Too Old, or Too Criminal?


In the wake of yesterday's horrific car-on-pedestrian accident in Santa Monica, in which 86-year-old driver Russell Weller killed 10 people and injured a score more at a weekday farmer's market, debate has understandably focused on which regulations should or should not be considered to determine if people are too old to drive.

But a friend of mine witnessed the prelude to and the beginning of the carnage, and suggests an alternative explanation to the "he was too old and stepped on the wrong pedal" thesis floated by the Santa Monica cops. Weller, according to my friend, was involved in another car accident just before the rampage, bumping into a Mercedes at a nearby intersection. From there, after coming to either a complete or near stop, he then tore off without talking to the other driver, swerving to the left around the Mercedes, jamming on the accelerator, and then crashing into produce tents and human bodies, according to this account. (The only other mention of the Mercedes I've seen was an eyewitness quote at The investigation is ongoing, obviously. Meanwhile, some California legislators are talking of reviving Tom Hayden's failed 2000 proposal that would have required every driver over 75 to take a road test.

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  1. IIRC (that’ll stand up good in court), I heard an eyewitness say that he was heading west on Arizona, about to turn right on 4th. There were two cars in front of him also trying to turn right. He, according to the witness, tried to get left of them in order to turn right to their left.

    I already left some of the numbers involved in the comments here.

  2. The farmer’s market is a regular event – why didn’t they have barriers in place?

    The *very same intersection* (3rd & Arizona) has removable anti-vehicle barriers to prevent cars from driving the other way, down third street.

  3. Reminds me of a pretty similar case that just happened down in Flordia where a 60-year old man crossed the double-yellow and plowed into a group of bicyclists.

  4. This (mandatory testing of seniors) has been an ongoing debate in Canada for several years. I think that all drivers should be road-tested every five years, period.

  5. AJB,
    Maybe it’s a good idea to test all of us every five years. But maybe it isn’t. It might just be to expensive to test everyone. We might need to pick groups (seniors?) that are more likely to have deteriorating capabilities.

  6. It may be expensive, but some people do not need to be aged before their driving skills deteriorate. Also, by getting these accidents in waiting off the roads, the cost of insurance claims will surely drop. Not that I would expect the savings to be passed on, but at least they might hold the line for a while

  7. It may be expensive, but some people do not need to be aged before their driving skills deteriorate. Also, by getting these accidents in waiting off the roads, the cost of insurance claims will surely drop. Not that I would expect the savings to be passed on, but at least they might hold the line for a while

  8. Apparently some of us have deteriorating keyboard skills as well. Sorry

  9. Interesting how the L.A. Times article sees that it must emphasize first and foremost the Hispanic/immigrant victims. How fucking typical.

  10. I think that the eskimos had it right when they pushed seniors onto an ice block and pushed them out to sea.

  11. You young ones really crack me up. Why would anyone over the age of 60 want to give up driving. Drivig is freedom, driving is youth. I will never give up driving… never. I drive to the pharmacy, to the vet, to my various doctors, to the library, to the stores. When I went to renew back in 98 they told my vision would no longer allow me to drive, but I just stomped out after telling them how my taxes pay their bills… I still drive today, and have only had four accidents, all the fault of you young drivers.

    I betcha that if those two cars hadn’t been there, that fine citizen never would have been forced to go around them all flustered like… sounds to me as if they are at fault, not him. What kind of car was he driving anyway… I betcha he couldn’t get that brake pedal just so cuz of shoddy design and manufacturing by you young punks… go knows it’s happened to me enough.

  12. David, thanks!

    Keith- I’m talking about what I was talking about, VIRTUALLY ALL PROPERTY, and I mean that literally. In a free enterprise society, cooperarion would rule. I’m sure there would be isolated cases where certain streets would be sectioned off and owned by the individual homeowners, but that’s not a rational privatized road system, as you said yourself, there would be some crank that would arbitrarily close his section, and that’s exactly why it wouldnt work, and that method would fail. Trespassing is a form of force, I think what would happen is that any one that closed his section would very quickly find himself very isolated. I think his neighbors would join together and all ban him from their sections, and his friends, and any of his visitors, though I don’t think the wacko would have many, and soon enough his food supply would run out and he would come to his senses. Remember, you can defend yourself from force (trespass), so depriving him of egress is fine. Try to think of all the ways that people could come up with to allow travel throughout the country in a private system, I’m sure there are thousands of ways to accomplish this without the intervention of a government. Remember, government is force, and force is not at all necessary to do this. You yourself provided one of the ways that rational thinking and behavior would come into play in a capitalist society. It wouldn’t take very many actual instances like you described (for you none), for everyone to check for their important issues that need to be addressed before closing on some property. No rational person would buy a house where their access is not ensured, that’s why parceled out streets in neighborhoods would not exist. There’s crazies everywhere, what’s there to stop anyone now from closing off the street in front of their house as you described. Why it’s the government of course, the people we should all run to to solve all of our problems (because we know that they are so good at it), They’ll stop him, with deadly force if they want. I’d much rather see a voluntary cooperation forming to bring him back around. If a person, or a business acts in an arbitrary fashion everyone has the choice to not associate with them. Our government acts arbitrarily all the time, and it’s not very easy to bring them around, it’s not like they have to worry about going out of business as easily as an individual, or a business in a capitalisatic society would. Rational thinking would rule, and most beople who, upon realizing that they are responsible for their own actions, would start thinking and behaving in a rational way. The network effect that you spoke about would develope. I remember that the government had something to do with the creation of the internet, but do you think it couldn’t have possibly have come into existance without it. The roads are the same way. It’s been twenty years or so since I read “Atlas Shrugged”, but wasn’t it primarily about escaping from the collectivist society that used force, and creating a voluntary, capitalistic one?

  13. I hate to sound like an illogical bleeding-heart here, but my opinion on this issue is tainted by a recent experience in which I was nearly killed by an elderly driver who violated the rules of traffic.

    I was waiting to turn left off of a main road onto a side street, and the driver in question was trying to make the same left turn, but from the small street to the major one. The small street has a stop sign, whereas turning off of the major street does not require a full stop. We had both stopped to wait, and when the first gap came, I started through the intersection. Unfortunately, he tried to do the same (it was not his turn), and we nearly collided in the lanes of travel on a 4-lane highway. We both had to swerve and stop our cars, with traffic moving our direction at 50mph or so. He started yelling; I screamed “Right of way!” and cleared the hell out of there (he made it through unharmed as well, luckily).

    That’s just my personal take — this driver was no younger than 65. And quite frankly, while there are doubtless a wide majority of capable senior citizen drivers, there is nothing un-libertarian about asking those most susceptible to lowered mental capability to re-prove their driving abilities. Traffic laws protect people from each other, not themselves.

  14. Open wide. Take two of these.

    Now, just relax. You’ll feel better in just a few minutes.

  15. “I live next to your socalled Doddering old fool. Let me tell you something. It wasa tragic mistake. He is the kindest man you would ever want to know. He has volunteered his time and life to many causes in Santa Monica for the last 40 years from feeding the homeless to tutoring latch key kids to spending time reading to children at St. Johns Hospital.” Comments?…turningtables… (via: …turningtables…)

  16. Technology is reaching the point that cars can contain black boxes that continually monitor where and how the car is being driven. One approach could be to have the car sound a warning and then lock down and refuse to be driven if the driver persisted in driving in a location or manner not covered by the current insurance policy. The insurance provider could require a deposit to cover emergency overrides.

  17. CharlesWT-Let’s just hope that they figure out a way to make sure that the car doesn’t lock down while it is going 80 and being tailgated by a semi, or going 95 on the freeways of Detroit (a place where I had a considerable amount of experience), with the innocent driver with his wife and two children, are desperately trying to escape from the predators that populate vast areas of that city, while the city police are busy shaking down crack dealers.

  18. Mark,

    The car could start limiting its performance and give the driver a three mile grace to find a place to stop. Since it would know its location, it wouldn’t stop in the middle of the road. Plus, in a few years, cars may be able to self-drive well enough to stop safely. An override would allow the driver to continue if he was willing to lose the $1,000 deposit he has with his insurance provider.

    I have little idea what the details something like this would actually have. I suggested it as a market driven alternative to government testing and licensing of drivers.

  19. CharlesWT-I obviously didn’t read your original posting as well as I should have in regards to the emergency override. Sorry. I would think that the driver, in a free market society, could use something like a video to prove that he had a legimate reason to invoke the override, and being a responsible, valued customer of the insurance company, would not have to lose his deposit. It would be in the best interest of the company to provide a clause for just such situations, since rational customers would go to the freely competing company that did. I did, however recognize the market driven implications of what you wrote about. I didn’t want to address those at the time since I can be rather long winded. Please look at my previous postings and you’ll see what I mean. I will try, in the future, to read things a little better before posting response.

  20. To AJB and Luka-Maybe we should remember our free market, capitalistic, libertarian, or whatever you choose to refer to it, knowledge of how things should be. Screw Canada, or any other government that violates our rights, including our own. I don’t know what actually happened (I wasn’t there, and I didn’t see any video of it occuring), but I do know that the government stole the roads, and violates our rights to travel freely in this country. The roads need to be privatized, and the owner(s) can choose who they want to allow on their property. I think that if I was an owner, I would only allow skilled (according to my judgement) drivers to use my road. I think that other owners would do the same thing, since real capitalism would promote rational thinking and all owners of roads in this idealistic society would seek to maximize profits, and maintaining stringent standards for who you would allow to engage in the potentially dangerious activity of controlling a vehicle (driving), would reduce your own insurance costs, and attract more desirable customers, while reducing their insurance costs. Of course accidents do happen, and murderers (if that’s what that driver is), will do what murderers do, but I’m sure that these things would be greatly reduced in a truely free society. So, what do we need to do about older drivers? The same thing we do about every other issue-PRIVATIZE!, CAPITALIZE!, LIBERALIZE!

  21. Mark: The citizenry already own the roads through their particular governments. I am merely advocating that the owner’s representative (the gov.) do as you suggest and apply a more stringent accessability test to the people who wish to make use of our/your road.

  22. There is no plausible solution to the problem of incompetent drivers short of convincing them to stop driving – which will never happen because in America most people have no other choice.

  23. Perhaps you haven’t heard the old joke: The New York Times (or LA Times) learns Armageddon is approaching, and reports: “WORLD TO END / Women, Minorities Hardest Hit”

    Classic! No, I hadn’t heard this old joke — thanks for that.

  24. Rex —

    For accidents per unit of time, seniors do not have a higher rate than people 25-40 years old. So if you’re selling insurance on a flat rate for period of time basis, they aren’t any greater risk than most people.

    For accidents per mile driven, seniors are in the same class as males 15-17 years old. If you’re on the road with a senior-driven car, he’s as much a risk to you as a young teenage male driver.

  25. Mark, welcome to the internet! Making Hit-n-Run one of your first stops bodes well for your internet future.

  26. Mark,

    “I obviously didn’t read your original posting as well as I should have in regards to the emergency override. Sorry.”

    No problem. If everyone always read everyone else’s postings thoroughly, the content of discussion boards would be reduced by, at least, 75% 🙂

    “I would think that the driver, in a free market society, could use something like a video to prove that he had a legimate reason to invoke the override, and being a responsible, valued customer of the insurance company, would not have to lose his deposit.”

    Good point. Also, vehicle shutdown could be reserved for particularly egregious drunken or reckless driving, police signal, etc. A persistent beep and a display showing a growing dollar amount might suffice in most cases.

    “I didn’t want to address those at the time since I can be rather long winded.”

    Perhaps you would like to take a look at LandVForums. We’re always looking for and welcoming new points of view and content, long winded or not.

  27. The Washington Times’ account of the incident described the man as being fairly cold and nonchalant about the whole thing- My aged grandfather recently totalled his car due to spacing out, and luckily no one was hurt. The accident was blatantly his fault, and I know he never would have forgiven himself if he would have killed someone. I suspect that the old man in Santa Monica knew exactly what he was doing, fleeing from an accident or whatever, and then playing dumb hoping for sympathy. Honestly, after the first 10 thumps, wouldn’t even the slowest person be able to hit the brake? The actuarial tables tell us that young men are a higher risk than experienced drivers and thus are punished with higher insurance premiums. Are old folks similarly considered “high-risk” and punished with high premiums? Minimally, both high-risk groups should be held to a high standard of driving safety, such as tough state testing for new drivers and very old ones. Protecting people from other people (not from themselves) is a legitimate function of government, in a libertarian John Stuart Mill “on liberty” sort of way. I’m sure we all respect the old man’s right to risk his own life and drive (into a brink wall or off a cliff if he wants. The whole thing is sad, and probably preventable if policymakers would use a little common sense.

  28. Actually, if you look at the statistics, older (70+) drivers have far fewer accidents than very young drivers. I believe that’s because they drive many fewer miles. Per mile may be a different story. But it would seem counterintuitive to penalize a group that costs insurers less, overall. After all, the worst driver in the world is no problem if he leaves his car in the garage all the time. Perhaps the answer is to closely investigate and test drivers of whatever age who have accidents, even minor ones, that indicate incompetence. That way, efforts could be concentrated on the problem drivers.

  29. Lets not jump the gun here. Sure, driver inability is an important issue, and more frequent testing of older drivers is a good thing.

    But, for all we know, this guy meant to do what he did. I worked in social services for a while, and some elderly people are downright fuckin’ evil. Yeah, I know, his family and neighbors say he is a great guy, but you hear the same thing about serial killers too.

  30. Make all them old farts who haven’t done anything wrong pay for “community grief”.

  31. Maybe we should require every lefty over 50 to get a brain scan.

    Just a thought.

  32. Has anybody here seen “Death Race 2000”? I think this guy did, and wanted revenge on the young folks who laughed when Stallone ran down all the old folks in that movie in walkers and wheelchairs.

  33. Robert – Or charge insurance premiums per mile instead of per unit time. I’ve heard of at least one insurance product that takes this approach. Trying to find a link.

    Mark – in terms of privitized roads, are you talking about private toll highways, or every strip of asphalt in front of private homes that lies on private property but has a public easement, granting rights of travel to people at large? In terms of private highways, a good idea, but a side issue to an old person who plowed through city street, street market. In terms of eliminating public easements through private property, which it sounds like you’re advocating, I respectfully disagree:
    1) When I contract to buy a house, if I am rational, I will know before closing what certain private property rights the prior owners had lost or sold off. If I don’t like it, I can walk away.
    2) Lets say there are 20 houses between mine and the supermarket. Or the hospital. And further, lets say the owner of house 12 is a crank and closes his street. Either for all users, or just specific classes of users. How about for users named “Mark” but only on alternate Mondays? Given enough arbitrary cranky “Atlas Shrugged” individuals, no one would necessarily have any idea on any given drive how they are getting to their destination.

    Personally, I find it a deal to exchange a public easement in front of my house to use all public easements in the US. Because of the network effect, my strip of road is more useful to me to be connected to all of my conceiveable destinations than not.

  34. If I owned a road, I’d let anyone drive on it, up to the point where I’d be legally liable. Of course that’s assuming that I make money from people driving on the road. If I owned a road going by my house, it would have big steel gate with machinegun turrents and no one would be allowed to drive on it. 🙂

  35. “every strip of asphalt in front of private homes that lies on private property but has a public easement, granting rights of travel to people at large?” Most roads are owned by the government, fee simple. It’s the public that has an easement. Of course, in many sprawling sunbelt suburbs, the neighborhood roads within the subdivisions are often owned and maintained by the homeowners association.

  36. Madog, you have to let the strippers drive on it, or else no stripper parties;)

  37. I’m not hopeful of any meaningful change regarding elderly driving safety coming out of this. After all, any good politician knows that the AARP vote is more important than public safety. Yet another example of how our society has decided that it’s more important to be politically correct than to be safe.

  38. Old people wouldn’t have to drive so much, and would be more willing to give up driving when the time comes, if we built our communities better.

  39. Keith-
    For an historical example, look to the middle ages just prior to the rise of centralized power by a few monarchs. Travel (and therefore trade) was hampered due to the same situation that you are referring to, but on a much greater level. Instead of a 50ft. plot of road that one couldn’t pass over, it would be an entire fiefdom. One could argue that much of the economic and intellectual growth that occurred during the Enlightenment hinged on a network of roads that was easier to navigate.

  40. To anon @ 11:58PM – Perhaps you haven’t heard the old joke: The New York Times (or LA Times) learns Armageddon is approaching, and reports: “WORLD TO END / Women, Minorities Hardest Hit”

  41. There is an increase in per-mile-driven accidents among teenagers and the elderly, compared to everyone else, which makes sense.

    AARP has a safe-driver course for old people, and boasts that several hundred thousand of them take it per year. But in my community of 300,000 people, that boils down to only 20 or 30 old fogies completing the course.

  42. I believe that stoned people at 4 AM should not be near any electical equip. (that inculdes a computer). I believe that they have no right to be talking about pritizing PUBLIC roads. Screw PRIVATIZE!, CAPITALIZE!, LIBERALIZE! my 10 year old brother makes more sence then you. incase you are wondering we are 16 and you can kiss your teenage publicly driving butts!

  43. EMAIL:

    DATE: 12/11/2003 12:19:55
    Against boredom even the gods contend in vain.

  44. EMAIL:
    DATE: 12/21/2003 02:20:53
    An ideal person is not a tool.

  45. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/10/2004 04:25:42
    Newness is relative.

  46. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/19/2004 08:42:46
    It is wise to apply the oil of refined politeness to the mechanisms of friendship.

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