Our firm represents the family of 5 year old Karla Campos, who was tragically killed last December by an elderly and infirm driver, Edith Anderson. Mrs. Anderson was charged after the death with vehicular manslaughter and on Monday, Judge Adele Grubbs sentenced her to 3 years in prison for her decisions.
The sentencing brings up a number of moral and legal issues. To understand the crash, you should review the following photos. There were 2 cars stopped behind the school bus when Anderson swerved to the right and on to the sidewalk. First look how far from the point where she hit the child she came to a rest and second notice the walking cane.Her arthritis was so advanced that she had serious trouble walking, much less driving. At her plea on Monday, she was in a wheelchair.
I spoke at length with the prosecutor and the criminal defense lawyer and we all agreed there were no easy decisions involved. On the one hand, there is an innocent child, whose death could have been avoided. On the other hand there is an elderly motorist who did not intend to hurt anyone.
People may ask, what was the crime? In my mind the crime occurred every morning when Edith Anderson woke up and used her walker to walk to her car, knowing her legs were far from what they used to be.
She must have had close calls before. She knew she was losing her ability to driver safely. For whatever reason, pride, the desire to have freedom, stubbornness; she never took herself off the road. Karla Campos and her family paid the ultimate price for Edith’s decisions. The crime is not making a mistake and stepping on the gas instead of the accelerator. The crime happened every morning when Edith took the keys from the key hook by the door. Every time she did that, she made a decision as an adult to operate a 2,0000 lb machine capable of inflicting great harm. As much as we expect the operators of heavy machinery to be competent, we expect the motoring public meet standards. Karla’s death occurred because Edith would not take herself off the road. This begs the question; “who should?”
The fact that Anderson was able to obtain a new driver’s license AFTER running Karla down is proof positive that the system has no restraints to address the reality that at some point in time all drivers lose the physical or mental capacity to driver safely.
How do we balance the driver’s freedom to drive with the public’s right not to see a child run down senselessly?
First, driving is literally a legal privilege and not a right. Second, it is not age discrimination to establish bright line ages where more or less scrutiny is appropriate. For example, there are over 20 driving regulations specific to younger drivers because society recognizes that young, inexperienced drivers are not as skilled as adults. We limit the time of day, the amount of passengers and impose stiffer speed penalties.
The same is not true for elderly drivers. It is for this reason that we have drafted a proposed change to Georgia’s driver’s license statutes called “Karla’s Law.” The changes to the existing law begin in section C below
O.C.G.A. § 40-5-32. Expiration and renewal of licenses; reexamination required
(c)(1) The department shall require every person who is age 64 or older applying for renewal of a driver’s license to take and pass successfully such test of his or her eyesight as the department shall prescribe; and
(2) In addition to paragraph (1) of this subsection, the department shall require every person who is age 75 or older applying for renewal of a driver’s license to furnish a statement from a practicing physician certifying that, after examination, the physician has found the applicant to be physically and mentally competent to operate a motor vehicle, but no private civil cause of action by any person shall arise against any physician as a result of this paragraph; and
(3) The department shall require every person who is age 75 or older applying for renewal of a driver’s license to successfully demonstrate the ability to exercise ordinary and reasonable control of the operation of a motor vehicle. (See Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. R. 375-3-1-.10 Driving Ability Demonstration); and
(4) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (a)(1) of this code section, each renewal driver’s license issued to a licensee 81 years of age through age 86 shall expire 2 years from the date of issuance, and each such driver’s license issued to a licensee 87 years of age or older shall expire 12 months from the date of issuance.
(d)(1) If two family members within the second degree of consanguinity to a licensee submit affidavits to the department that the licensee’s physical or mental condition creates a risk of harm to other motorists, the department will, within fifteen days of receipt of such affidavits, issue an order that the licensee provide to the department a physician’s statement consistent with the requirements of paragraph (c)(2) of this section. If such physician’s statement is not submitted to the department within sixty days from the date of the order, the licensee’s driving privileges will be suspended until a physician’s statement is provided.
This law will not bring Karla back, but it will prevent us from burying other innocent victims.