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San Jose Nursing Home Crash Renews Discussion on Older Drivers

When should seniors stop driving?

The debate over the right of seniors to remain behind the wheel was revived this weekend after a 90-year-old woman drove through a nursing home's recreation room on Saturday.

Police say she mistook the gas pedal for the brake and accelerated into the facility. The driver was unhurt, but two residents of the Amberwood Gardens Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in San Jose, Calif., have died; five people were injured.

Also: Is it time for your loved ones to hang up the keys?

Many older people resist giving up the car keys because it significantly reduces their sense of independence. But that desire to hold on to the keys has proven itself deadly more than once.

Earlier this year, a couple was found frozen to death after getting lost. William and Betty Fresch were on their way home — a 40-minute ride from their daughter’s Mechanicsburg, Pa., home. Their bodies were found 60 miles away near Frederick, Md. The couple’s daughter said she worried about her 85-year-old father driving, but they had a plan that she thought was working.

And in 2003, an 86-year-old man plowed into a busy farmer's market in Santa Monica, Calif., killing 10 people and injuring 70 others. Once again, "pedal confusion" was cited. (The driver received probation.)

Solving this problem isn't just a matter of telling older drivers to stop. Some jurisdictions have taken legal steps, but people don’t automatically lose their driver’s license when they reach a certain age.

The rules vary from state to state, but once a driver reaches 65 or 70, the number of years between renewals decreases. And some states, including California, require older people to renew in person, not by mail — a convenience given to most drivers — to assess a person's fitness to drive. Only a handful of states require vision screening or other tests.

So are your parents OK on the road? Here are some signs that can help you determine whether you need to have "the talk."