The death of a 100-year old Hilton Head Island man in a single-car crash this week raised questions about what age drivers should turn in their keys.
While there may be a perception that the oldest drivers are the most dangerous, there isn't much evidence -- both in anecdotal and numbers-driven data -- that supports the idea.
Gene Mayfield was killed Wednesday after crashing his 2005 Dodge Magnum into a tree off Birdsong Way around 2:10 p.m. He was not wearing a seatbelt and his license had been suspended, said LCpl. Hannah Wimberly of the S.C. Highway Patrol.
Investigators are still unsure what caused Mayfield to run off the left side of the road. The cause of death was listed as trauma from the crash, and an autopsy has not been scheduled since his injuries were readily apparent, Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen said Friday.
Wimberly said in her career with the Highway Patrol she had never handled a fatal crash with a driver as old as Mayfield.
When Mayfield was killed Wednesday, he did have a driver's license but it had been under suspension since April because he did not have valid insurance, S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman Beth Parks said. Mayfield did not have any points on his license and his last driving infraction came in 2009, she said. She declined to specify that infraction.
Mayfield would have been able to renew his license next May, so long as he passed a vision test and had insurance, Parks said.
The DMV requires drivers to take an eye exam when they renew their license every five years, but aside from that there are few other requirements.
Drivers can also bring in documentation of an exam from an eye doctor within the previous six months and waive that requirement, she said.
If a senior citizen appears to be impaired, a DMV employee can ask them to take a road test, she said.
Of the 137,194 licensed drivers in Beaufort County, 3,423 are between the ages of 85 and 110 years old, Parks said.
Parks said the DMV does hear from children of elderly parents who believe they are unfit to take to the road, but the agency does not have the power to deny them a license if they meet the requirements.
That determination falls to law enforcement or the person's physician.
But Mayfield didn't fit into that category.
Friends described the longtime Lowcountry resident as spry and youthful, looking much younger than his age. He had taken a trip to Africa at 91 and played golf two to three times a week until he was 95, his friends said.
Mayfield's death Wednesday raised a common refrain on social media -- was he too old to be driving?
The reason most cited is that driving skills diminish just as physical capabilities do as people age.
Eyesight, hearing and peripheral vision can all falter as a one ages, leading to trouble seeing traffic signs, judging distances and reacting, according to the American Association of Retired Persons.
Although residents older than 65 make up about a quarter of the county's population, they don't make up a larger amount of driving incidents or infractions than any other age group, Beaufort County Sheriff's Office spokesman Capt. Bob Bromage said.
Specific data on those incidents was not immediately available Friday, he said.
Fatal crash data from the area also doesn't support the perception that elderly drivers are any more dangerous than other drivers.
Just 10 percent of fatal wrecks between 2009 and 2014 in Beaufort County involved drivers older than 65, and 35 percent involved a driver older than 50, according to available crash data.
Young drivers are more likely to get into fatal wrecks locally, according to the crash data. Drivers younger than 35 made up about 40 percent of fatal crashes in Beaufort County during the past five years. The statistics did not provide an age for about 15 percent of the crashes.
March 7, 2015 It's not who you think. Locals -- not tourists or older drivers -- are behind most fatal crashes | READ
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- Who's making our roads dangerous, March 7, 2015