New York State Police are continuing their investigation of the crash that killed three Michigan residents early Monday on Grand Island.
And while many details remain unclear, the tragic incident involving an 87-year-old Kenmore man who had been driving north in the southbound side of I-190 for more than eight miles before the collision has reignited the discussion about how to ensure elderly drivers don’t pose a danger behind the wheel.
Dr. Robert Stall, a local expert on geriatric issues, offered a few suggestions on how to improve safety on the roads.
“I don’t think that there should be an age limit for retesting, because it is actually those under age 25 who are involved in the most accidents,” Stall said. “I think a more reasonable approach is mandating a driver safety test for drivers of all ages periodically when registration comes due.”
These driver safety tests are offered by the AARP and AAA frequently in the area. AARP classes are held at local senior centers, and cost $17 for AARP members and $19 for non-members. Completing the course rewards students with a 10 percent insurance discount.
In addition to these courses, Stall advises family members of the elderly to keep an eye on minor incidents such as fender benders, as well as physical problems such as vision or hearing loss. By taking a family member to a doctor, Stall believes many incidents could be prevented.
Stall is currently involved in research to aid elderly drivers suffering from dementia and help them stay on the roads.
“One of the solutions to the problem may be technology,” Stall said. “I know that there is speculation that the entrance Hildebrand used Monday morning may be confusing — so better signage could help, or alarms could be used that would go off when a driver is going the wrong way.”
Heidi Widmer, a 20-year-old from Lancaster is also passionate about the issue, but disagrees with Stall’s solutions. In 2010, Widmer began a petition to enact a state law requiring elderly drivers to be retested at a certain age and is gaining more publicity for her cause since Monday’s accident.
Widmer began the petition after her cousin’s husband, 29-year-old Michael Stoldt, was killed on his motorcycle by a 79-year-old man in June of 2010 in East Aurora.
“Michael was going straight through an intersection, and the elderly man made an illegal left turn right into him,” Widmer said.
The man’s license was suspended for 120 days, but Widmer says the now-81-year-old is back on the road.
“We think there should be an age limit for testing cognitive ability and reaction times to stop these incidents, like the crash this week, from happening,” Widmer said. “We aren’t trying to victimize the elderly. It happens to everyone, and it’s not their fault — we just want to keep the roads safe.”
At this point, Widmer is trying to get attention from the state in hopes the state Legislature will eventually enact a law requiring a retest of elderly drivers. The petition currently has about 4,000 paper and online signatures. She estimates she will need 10,000 in order to have any pull with state lawmakers.
As for the particulars of Monday’s accident, investigators remain uncertain of several pertinent details.
According to Sgt. Brian Guise, many details remain unclear as to why Richard Hildebrand, the 87-year-old Kenmore resident that caused the crash, was driving past midnight.
“We still don’t know where Richard Hildebrand entered the I-190 going the wrong way,” Guise said. “We also don’t know where he was coming from, how long he was out for, or how fast the two vehicles were going when they collided.”
Hildebrand and the driver of the other vehicle, Burhanur Rahman, remain in critical condition in ECMC. Both drivers and Rahman’s front-seat passenger were wearing their seat belts at the time of the accident, while the two passengers in the back of Rahman’s vehicle were not.
Guise also said that they still do not know why the Michigan residents, who are originally from Bangladesh, were in the area. They are working with their families in order to get more information.
“The assumption is that both vehicles may have swerved and pulled to the left before colliding,” Guise said. “The brunt of the damage is on the passenger front side of both vehicles.”
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.