After deadly traffic incident in Whitestone, Queens residents petition to regularly retest senior drivers

Sershen petition
Photo via Change.org/Julian Ho

Just one week after a fatal collision in Whitestone that caused the tragic death of a local teenager, Queens residents are demanding a change to the way New York state assesses its senior drivers.

More than 7,000 residents have signed onto a petition that calls for “mandatory retesting every two years for all drivers age 80 and over.” New York state currently has an eight-year renewal program that requires a vision exam. It does not have specific provisions for older drivers.

The call comes in the wake of the June 25 collision that killed Madeline Sershen, a 17-year-old who attended St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows. Sershen was crossing Utopia Parkway with the walk light in her favor when she was struck by a 2005 Toyota Corolla driven by 88-year-old Sheila Kahn Prager, who police said ignored a steady red light.

Paramedics rushed Sershen to NewYork-Presbyterian Queens hospital, where the teen was pronounced dead. Prager was issued a desk appearance ticket charging her with three crimes, including disobeying a traffic control device.

The Change.org petition, which was published on June 30, suggests that drivers over 80 years of age undergo a driving test every two years to determine whether or not they are still fit to drive, before they are issued a new license.

“Simply passing a vision exam is an extremely low standard for a person to maintain their privilege to drive,” the petition reads. “Individuals over 80 must be able to demonstrate that they can continue to remain safe on the road.”

Across the country, states have varying rules for issuing licenses to older adults. Many states require seniors drivers to either renew their license in person, complete a written test or provide a doctor’s certificate stating they are fit to drive.

The petition, which was already just short of its 7,500-signature goal on July 2, will be delivered to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York State Legislature.

Julian Ho, the local who started the petition, said Sershen’s family reached out to him to voice their support for the petition. He also encouraged those who signed to call Cuomo’s office to urge the leader to change the state’s driver’s license renewal procedures.

“My beautiful baby sister’s death shall not be in vain,” wrote Olivia Sershen. “Please make the change we need to see in order to prevent future tragedies like Madeline’s — which could have been avoided!!!”

The petition is the second community response to last week’s tragic accident. In the hours following the incident, friends of the teenager’s family launched a fundraiser on GoFundMe to help ease the burden of funeral costs. The campaign surpassed its $10,000 goal in less than 24 hours and has raised $37,194 as of July 2.

The Change.org petition can be viewed here.