Madeline Sershen was doing everything right when she crossed at Utopia Parkway and 16th Avenue in Whitestone on June 25. The 17-year-old, who attended St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows and, previously, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Bayside, had the walk sign, crossed in the crosswalk and her phone was in her bag, according to her sister, Olivia Sershen.
Yet Madeline was hit by an 88-year-old driver, who police say ran the steady red light at the intersection that morning. Paramedics rushed Sershen to NewYork-Presbyterian Queens hospital, where the teen was pronounced dead.
In the wake of the tragedy, Sershen’s family and community members have begun advocating to change the way New York state assesses its senior drivers. A total of 33 states and Washington, D.C., have special provisions for senior drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. New York is not one of them, and currently has an eight-year renewal program that requires a vision exam, regardless of age.
Over 17,000 people have already signed onto a petition created last month that calls for “mandatory retesting every two years for all drivers age 80 and over.” In a next step, family members have organized a rally, where they will call on New York state leaders to enact the reforms. It will take place on July 30 at the site of the accident, 16th Avenue and Utopia Parkway, at 7 p.m.
“We are not looking to take licenses and independence away from those who are fit to drive,” Olivia Sershen wrote in a public Facebook post. “Instead, we are trying to weed out those unsafe drivers by mandating periodic retesting. We are looking to make our community safer and attempting to prevent future tragedies.”
Rita Barravecchio, Sershen’s aunt, has also created a Facebook group called “Maddie’s Move,” which will serve as another venue to organize efforts for change. She is encouraging those interested in helping the cause to call Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office at 518-474-8390 and attend Monday evening’s rally.
“Support the Sershen Gallagher family as they rally for change,” the event page reads. “DMV has to change their driver renewal policy before another innocent life is lost because of an incompetent driver.”
For the latest updates on the July 30 rally, visit the Facebook event page.