LEAWOOD, KS (KCTV) – June 01, 2015
A Leawood woman is turning her son’s tragic death into a crusade for senior citizen driving safety.
On Wednesday, Susan Cohen will bring her story and her educational program to the KU Edwards campus for The Get Up and Go Older Adult Driving Expo.
“It is so important to have an active and fulfilled life,” said Cohen. “But it is also important to drive less over time and eventually retire from driving.”
In 2011, her 20-year-old son, Nathan Krasnopoler, was run over by an 83-year-old driver when the family lived in Baltimore. Nathan was riding a bicycle home from the nearby farmer’s market.
“He flew through the air and she drove over him on her driveway, so she pinned him between the driveway and the hot part of the car so the wheels never went over him but he was pinned.”
Cohen can’t say for sure if age played a role in the woman’s fatal driving error, but the police report did reveal a physical limitation.
“She had three glaucoma surgeries which meant that she lost peripheral vision, so she wasn’t doing anything in her driving to compensate for that loss,” said Cohen. “I really think that this was a driver that with more education and coaching and perhaps referrals from her physician would have probably been OK to drive, but unfortunately she was not.”
After hitting him, the driver got out and sat on a wall. She didn’t yell for help or call 911. A passerby eventually intervened. Cohen doesn’t know how long her son’s body laid underneath the hot undercarriage, which crushed his lungs and burned his face nor does she know what caused the woman to react to the wreck the way she did.
“We don’t know because police never turned her in for a medical review,” said Cohen when asked about possibilities like dementia.
It was a life-changing moment that prompted Cohen to set aside her career as a lawyer and become an activist and educator with a mission. In 2012, after she moved to Leawood, she and her husband founded Americans for Older Driver Safety.
“I felt compelled to address the problem,” she explained. “I felt that my son would want this problem addressed.”
A 2014 AAA report calls elderly drivers the safest age group on the road. Cohen says that’s because they’re on the road less often overall. But those who aren’t aware of their limitations can pose a risk.
“Everything with aging happens so gradually, you really will not know when you are unsafe to drive,” said Cohen
The class she’s offering at Tuesday’s expo is something she has already taught in Missouri thanks to a grant from the Mid-America Regional Council.
The main focus of Cohen’s classes isn’t driving but planning. She has created a worksheet listing all the usual places someone might want or need to go along with columns for transportation alternatives. She suggests planning to reduce driving gradually.
She also brings examples of products that can make driving safer and more comfortable for seniors. For example, there are large rear-view mirror add-ons that broaden field of vision. Her favorite product is something called Mobileye, which tells drivers if they are driving too closely or drifting into another lane. Cohen has equipped her teenaged daughter’s car with one.
One thing she doesn’t include is driving skills, such as being aware of how declining peripheral vision requires that drivers turn their heads more and not rely on side-view mirrors. The AARP offers those classes. Click here for information.
Cohen recommends that older drivers take those classes as well to supplement the planning course she provides.
AAA offers a useful online screening tool for older drivers to see how well they perform on certain key functions. Click here for more.
Wednesday’s expo runs from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Regnier Hall at KU’s Edwards Campus. It is free. Cohen’s class will run from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Click here for more.
Alternative senior transportation organizations will be on hand as well. Johnson County Catch-a-Ride provides volunteer drivers on a contagion-only basis. JET Express, which is run by Jewish Family Services, provides volunteers in Missouri and Kansas at a cost of $5 per one-way trip.
Cohen plans to teach classes in Missouri later this year.