Rash of elderly drivers crashing into Mission shops raises safety concerns

Mission police officer Ron Castle and City Planner Danielle Murray inspect damage to hair salon at 5907 Dearborn Dr. struck by elderly driver Thursday.
Mission police officer Ron Castle and City Planner Danielle Murray inspect damage to hair salon at 5907 Dearborn Dr. struck by elderly driver Thursday.

Three times since mid-August, including twice this week, an elderly driver has crashed her car into a beauty salon storefront–all at the same Mission shopping center.

The string began Aug. 17 when an 82-year-old woman hit Cheryl’s Hair Design at 5909 Dearborn. Then on Wednesday morning, a 74-year-old woman wound up inside the Savvy Salon, 5910 W. 59th Terr.

Finally, a 76-year-old woman struck the front of Workshoppe Beauty Salon, 5907 Dearborn, Thursday morning.

No injuries were reported, except for frazzled nerves, but Kristin Nichols, coordinator of the driving rehabilitation program at Shawnee Mission Health, said it’s unlikely these accidents were the first time a driver was having problems.

“There was clearly more happening that should have been caught sooner,” she said. “Building crashes are getting to be one of the largest areas of concern. It’s why I do this job, it’s to prevent these accidents.”

The shopping center is managed by Main Street Properties. Jeremiah Gin, declined to comment about the accidents except to say, “a lot of people are pretty shook up by the incidents.”

Nichols, an occupational therapist who lectures regularly on the topic of older drivers, wasn’t surprised all three accidents involved a beauty salon. She noted that many women, regardless of their age, pride themselves on regularly keeping up their appearance.

But she added that statistics show that women tend to outlive the years they can drive safely by a decade and men by seven years.

And the challenge of seniors knowing when to quit is only growing. As Baby Boomers age, there’s a “silver tsunami” that will double the 70-plus age group through 2030.

“The unfortunate piece is so many people have not planned for retiring from driving,” Nichols said. “They’re trying to remain independent in the community.”

As people grow older, more medical problems begin to pile up that can cause problems driving including Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia and neuropathy, a condition were people loose sensation in their lower body.

An elderly driver crashed her car Wednesday inside a hair salon at 5910 W. 59th Terr. in Mission. Photo courtesy Mission Police Department.
An elderly driver crashed her car Wednesday inside a hair salon at 5910 W. 59th Terr. in Mission. Photo courtesy Mission Police Department.

Nichols offered warning signs that indicate a person’s driving abilities are deteriorating:

  • Noticing more dents in your car, home or mailbox.
  • Having difficulty judging spacing and deciding when its safe to turn, particularly left turns.
  • Finding that people no longer want to ride with them.
  • Becoming more uncomfortable or nervous about driving.
  • Being honked at by other drivers.
  • Feeling that cars and pedestrians are appearing out of nowhere.
  • Getting two or more traffic tickets or traffic stops by police over a two-year period.

And she warned that a person should immediately stop driving if:

  • They confuse the brake and gas pedal, or have difficulty feeling them.
  • Stop in traffic to try to process what’s going on.
  • Become lost, especially in familiar locations.
  • Have frequent close calls or collisions.
  • Are having difficulty seeing signs and traffic signals.

Nichols urged people who’ve experienced problems driving to consult their doctor or some other trusted medical professional. Families or friends concerned about a person’s driving can make an anonymous request to the Kansas Department of Revenue to have the person evaluated.

Brandy Hodge of the Johnson County Department Human Services offered other options, including the driving program at Shawnee Mission Health, call 913-676-7655. The Rehabilitation Institute of Kansas City also offers driving evaluation and training, 816-751-7500.

And the American Association of Retired People (AARP) offers a Smart Driver Course designed for people 50 and older. They can be reached at 1-866-389-5627.

Car smashed Wednesday into Mission hair salon at 5910 W. 59th Terr. Photo courtesy Consolidated Fire District No. 2
Car smashed Wednesday into Mission hair salon at 5910 W. 59th Terr. Photo courtesy Consolidated Fire District No. 2