Why Are Cars Crashing Into Buildings?

By Annette Pinder
It keeps happening and nobody seems to know why. Since last August there have been more than 20 accidents involving cars crashing into buildings in the Buffalo area. Cars have plowed into an apartment building, a deli, a senior care facility, a restaurant, a dollar store and a Wendy’s. In October two college students died in a high-speed crash into a local market. There’s even a Google map showing all the accident sites.
Lisa Thorpe, MS, OTR, Occupational Therapist and Driver Rehabilitation Specialist at Erie County Medical Center (ECMC), says “There are a number of factors contributing to these accidents, including age, driver distraction, and medical problems. They are rarely the result of vehicle malfunction.”
“More people should be evaluated, particularly if there is a question about their ability to drive safely, or if they’ve had an illness or injury that is affecting their performance,” says Lisa. “It’s important to determine an individual’s ability to begin or resume driving by understanding their limitations.”
For a proper determination of driving ability, evaluations should be performed by an occupational therapist who has specialized training in driver rehabilitation. The therapist can make recommendations regarding the need for vehicle adaptations and training. For example, if a person was involved in a left-turn collision, they should be placed in left turn situations in multiple traffic scenarios during an in-vehicle evaluation to assess the problem. Typical vehicle modifications may involve such things as mirror placement, hand controls, or repositioning the gas pedal. Lisa says, “It isn’t a matter of pass-fail. The goal is to make appropriate modifications so people can remain safe and independent.”
Lisa has her own thoughts about why we’ve had so many unusual accidents, and she attributes part of it to our driving environment. She notices people driving too fast, being distracted, and using parking lots as roadways. She says people need to impose their own limitations based on their comfort levels, and refrain from driving at night or in heavy traffic if they aren’t confident in these situations. Limiting distractions like the radio is also helpful.
Lisa says it’s important to be open and honest. If you notice a relative or friend having difficulty driving she encourages having a non-critical, non-threatening conversation about driving. “Our region’s older driver population is growing significantly,” says Lisa, “so it’s important as a community to address the needs of older drivers and keep them on the road as long and safely as possible.”
Help is available. One resource is Erie County’s Older Driver Family Assistance Help Network Task Force.  For help with alternative transportation call Charles Battaglia Erie County Senior Services at 858-8526.
To learn more about ECMC’s Driver Rehabilitation Program, call 893-3225.  Lisa or another certified ECMC driver rehabilitation specialist will be glad to answer your questions. 
WNY Resource:
ECMC Driver Rehabilitation Program
462 Grider Street
Buffalo, New York 14215