Alexandria: Seniors at the Wheel

Alexandria: Seniors at the Wheel

Accident highlights need for alternative travel options for elderly.

According to police, at 10 a.m. on Aug. 2, Leonard Wainstein, a 92-year-old Fairfax resident, was looking for a parking spot at a bank in Old Town Alexandria. A few minutes later, one parking attendant was injured and Jeremais Herrera Rodriguez was struck and killed by Wainstein’s car as it suddenly careened down Swift Alley. Why Wainstein accelerated down the alleyway is unknown at this time, but Deputy Police Chief David Huchler said he did not believe it was a malicious act. Wainstein is now charged with two counts of reckless driving.


Jeremais Herrera Rodriguez, victim of “reckless driving” crash.

“There are so many transportation options. Because it’s a small city, it makes us unique in being able to get around. It’s good to be equipped with information about these services.”

— Mary Lee Anderson, Executive Director, Senior Services of Alexandria

While the details of the moments leading up to the crash remain unknown, it’s possible that Wainstein’s age may have played a role in the incident. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 5,560 “older adults” were killed in automobile accidents in 2012 and 214,000 were injured. And the number of older drivers is increasing over time. There were 36 million licensed older drivers in 2012, a 34 percent increase since 1999. As more and more elderly drivers take the the roads, more and more families need to begin considering whether it’s time to find other options.

Recently, Virginia has made changes to begin to limit accidents caused by elderly drivers. On Jan. 1, 2015, a law went into effect that required everyone 75 or older to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) every five years instead of the standard eight. Rather than renew by mail or online, citizens are required to visit a DMV site in person to get a new picture and take a vision test. However, the DMV does not require any other type of testing for drivers over 75.

Mary Lee Anderson, executive director of Senior Services of Alexandria, discouraged making assumptions about older drivers based solely on their age, but said there are signs concerned family member can look for to see whether or not driving ability is beginning to be impaired.

“Look at the state of their vehicle,” said Anderson. “If you’re noticing scratches or dents, that might be giving you a warning sign. Ask to be a passenger if they’re going somewhere. If you’re going to a movie, might want to say ‘how about I come along with you?’ and see them on the road.”

Greg Bischak, an Alexandria resident, said there were signs he began to notice when his parents started to get older.

“There were cognitive indicators,” said Bischak. “There was some forgetfulness, lack of awareness, not reacting right away, not just in a car but other situations.”

Bischak and his family tried to get the keys away from his parents as much as possible, but in 2004 they were on their way to a dental appointment when they were involved in an automobile accident. It wasn’t clear who was at fault, but both of Bischak’s parents had serious injuries.

“It took [my mom] a long time to recover from it,” said Bischak. “My dad died six months later. It’s unclear whether it was related to that, but there’s no doubt the accident had a huge psychological impact. Mom had debilities and ultimately needed hip replacement surgery. It was a slide towards the end for both of them.”

Bischak said independence was important to his parents and might have been in denial about the effects of their aging.

“[Looking back,] we’d all be more emphatic with them about the danger of an accident,” said Bischak. “This is where denial gets in the way. If you don’t think you’re losing cognitive abilities, you aren’t going to listen to that. Having these stories, it’s important to get out there to have testimonials.”

Brandy Brubaker, public relations and media liaison for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said the DMV-sponsored can be a useful tool for starting the conversation about an elderly family member’s driving ability. offers driver safety tips, signs of an impaired driving ability, and practice tests for older drivers.

“These are things a mature driver can look for in their own driving skills to see if they’re still as sharp a driver as they used to be, or for family who might be concerned,” said Brubaker. “It gives you a way to start that conversation.”

Brubaker says in more extreme cases, individuals with concerns about seniors driving can contact their local DMV to see about recommending their family member be reevaluated.

“People that are concerned about driving ability of drivers of any age can make reports to us about folks they think might need to be reviewed,” said Brubaker. “We review cases of individuals, maybe they have a health or medical condition that may hinder their driving. We get reports from all different kinds of people. If we have a reason to believe [there’s an] unsafe driver we have right to intervene. Reports can come from law enforcement, medical officials, concerned citizens and family or friends. We look into the report, see if it has merit, and we can require a driver to complete a screening or can require them to do a written exam.”

The DMV website specifies that reevaluations can also include driving tests. Following reexamination, the hearing officer can decide on restrictions, probation,suspension or revocation of a driver’s license.

According to Anderson, having the conversation with an elderly family member about giving up driving can be difficult.

“[Driving] means that they can maintain their independence and that they don’t have to rely on their family or friends,” said Anderson. “It’s always a difficult conversation for a family to have with a senior who may be reluctant.”

Anderson said one of the most important parts of that conversation is being prepared with alternatives for travel.

“Alexandria actually has very viable transportation options for seniors other than driving their own car,” said Anderson.

Elderly Alexandrians can enroll with the Senior Taxi Service, which offers discounted fares for seniors who enroll through the City of Alexandria Division of Aging and Adult Services by calling 703-746-5999.

Senior Services of Alexandria also offers a DOT Para-Transit program for citizens who are unable or have difficulty using public transportation. The program offers Americans with Disabilities compliant curb-to-curb taxi service seven days a week. One-way fares within Alexandria or five miles outside city limits is $3, while trips outside those limits are $5. The program has 1,500 registered clients and provides 50,000 rides annually. Anyone with questions about the program can call 703-836-4414, extension 116 or email Seniors can enroll in the program or learn more at

“They can go to any destination in City of Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax,” said Anderson. “It’s a great option for those whom city transportation isn’t a possibility. You can go to family and friends or the grocery store and there’s no income eligibility.”

Anderson also encouraged residents to look into city DASH bus services and to utilize the King Street trolley.

“There are so many transportation options,” said Anderson. “Because it’s a small city, it makes us unique in being able to get around. It’s good to be equipped with information about these services. Give them options recognizing their need to be able to get out and about. Approach it in a positive fashion. It’s important to be respectful of their dignity and their desire to remain independent. That’s a very strong motivation.”

Beyond transportation around the city, Anderson said it might be useful for aging residents, or family of aging residents, to look at programs like home delivery of groceries.

“Take advantage of all the city has to offer if you have an older family member,” said Anderson. “”We have a groceries delivery program that we instituted a year ago for those with disabilities for whom shopping is difficult. You can take advantage of a program like Peapod or, if they don’t want to pay a delivery fee or aren’t computer savvy, we call every two weeks and take orders. That’s a way for an individual who wants to be in their own homes but can’t do shopping on their own. Go to the city website or to our website and there’s a plethora of opportunities on educating yourself before you talk to that senior so that they can maintain their dignity and you can have a positive personal relationship.”

Senior Taxi Service

Elderly Alexandrians can enroll with the Senior Taxi Service, which offers discounted fares for seniors who enroll through the City of Alexandria Division of Aging and Adult Services by calling 703-746-5999.