88-Year-Old Driver Runs Red, Kills Madeline Sershen, 17, in Utopia Parkway Crosswalk

Video still: WNBC
Video still: WNBC

An 88-year-old motorist ran a red light and killed a teenager in Whitestone yesterday.

Sheila Kahn Prager was driving a Toyota compact on Utopia Parkway at around 10:30 a.m. when she disregarded the signal at 16th Avenue and slammed into 17-year-old Madeline Sershen, who was crossing the parkway in the crosswalk.

Madeline Sershen. Photo via Daily News
Madeline Sershen. Photo via Daily News

The victim was propelled onto the hood of the car and into the windshield. Sershen, of Flushing, sustained severe head trauma and was pronounced dead at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens hospital, according to the Daily News and QNS.com.

Prager was arrested and charged with failure to yield, failure to exercise due care, and running the light.

“Because of her age she should not have been on the road,” Sershen’s father, Eric Sershen, told the News. “I think the family of this person should’ve taken the keys away.”

Other than vision tests, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles does nothing to monitor the driving abilities of license-holders as they age. Instead, the DMV leaves it to individual motorists and their families to decide when someone is no longer physically capable of operating a motor vehicle.

“She was looking forward to life,” Eric Sershen said. “She was just so smart. She excelled at everything that she wanted to do.”

Madeline Sershen was killed in the 109th Precinct, and in the City Council district represented by Paul Vallone.

  • AnoNYC

    I wish our politicians would force the automakers into making collision avoidance a standard requirement on all vehicles at an earlier date than 2022 (and this deadline is just general, not pedestrian avoidance though, I hope by that time the more advanced detection will not be “premium”).

    It will take some years before the majority of automobiles on the road have it, but the sooner it’s mandated the sooner we will see less of these types of collisions.

  • van_vlissingen

    On this stretch, Utopia has a buffered class 2 lane. It could be easily flipped to narrow the roadway and slow drivers down.

  • Joe R.

    There shouldn’t be an honor system where those who can no longer drive either turn in their keys or have their children do it for them. Drivers should be retested starting at age 50 perhaps every 5 years until they turn 65. At age 65, you should be retested annually. The first time you fail the test, you lose your license for good. Thank the AARP for the fact we don’t do something like this.

  • William Lawson

    Vision Zero coming along quite nicely isn’t it Bill?

    I mean there really are zero vehicular deaths in NYC, unless you count the daily stream of fatalities. Set those aside, and de Blasio is doing a bang up job.

  • William Lawson

    I think automakers would pull out all the stops to resist such a law. Automatic collision avoidance would I imagine open a whole new world of lawsuits. It shifts the legal responsibility for deaths from the driver to the manufacturer. If it’s determined that their collision detection algorithm was flawed – huge lawsuit. If it’s determined that someone in the car was killed by a sudden unexpected braking – huge lawsuit. Previous to this, they could shift blame on the driver in the vast majority of fatalities. The last thing they’d want is this whole new spectrum of liability. So while I look forward to the day when all cars are smart enough to avoid collisions, I think there’s a years-long road of legal wrangling ahead.

  • dave “paco” abraham

    agree we need to be tested again but why do it at 50 and make it some ageism argument or attack on the elderly. How about a very simple, straightforward solution. You renew your driver’s license every 8 years in NY, how about a quick road test each time too?

  • Joe R.

    Ideally, I’ve love to make keeping a driver’s license as difficult as keeping a pilot’s license. Part of that would entail annual testing. In practice, that’s probably a political nonstarter as 90% of the population would no longer be able to drive. So instead we can focus on more frequent testing starting at age 50, which is when many people start having noticeable declines in their reflexes and cognitive abilities.

    I’m not against also having everyone get retested whenever they renew their driver’s license. However, every 8 years isn’t good enough when people start getting into their 50s or 60s. So perhaps have the test whenever you get your license renewed, but from age 50 to age 65 the renewal period is every 4 years. After age 65 it’s annually.

  • AnoNYC

    Most automakers have pledged 2022, so a few years. Toyota offers already offers general collision avoidance standard on all of their models already. Same with Volkswagen I believe and many of the luxury brands.

    If the federal government mandated 2020, it would happen.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I wonder why the press/police didn’t pull the usual stuff on this girl — she was on her phone, had one foot outside the crosswalk, wasn’t paying attention, or some other excuse?

    Every parent feels these child deaths.

  • Joe R.

    You don’t even have to be a parent to feel for these deaths. We were all 17 once. I can only imagine that perhaps school was out, she was looking forward to enjoying summer, and suddenly she’s dead, along with whatever hopes for the future she had. She’ll never have a 20th birthday, 30th birthday, a career, marriage, children, or celebrate the day she retires. To paraphrase a line from Unforgiven: It’s a hell of a thing, killing a person. Take away all they got and all they’re ever gonna have.

    Even sadder was the person who did this already lived their life, likely already has one foot in the grave.

  • Jake Stevens

    Joe, as a 54 year old I find your proposal more than a little onerous on us 50 and 60 somethings. How old are you? Do you have any studies that would indicate that such a draconian burden is necessary or would have a public benefit. Asking for a lot of friends…

  • Joe R.

    If you still have the cognitive ability and reflexes to drive after age 50, then periodic retesting wouldn’t be a burden at all. Point of fact, cognitive abilities and reflexes actually peak at around age 24 ( http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0094215 ). This obviously affects any tasks involving these skills but for many things this doesn’t matter. If you take a little longer to make decisions at work, or perhaps slow down a bit if you do manual labor, there is no impact on public safety. So for many tasks, age really doesn’t matter, and I’ve always been opposed to ageism in the work place so long as it doesn’t impact safety.

    For anything where the safety of others can be compromised, it’s important to have regular testing to assure age or other conditions don’t impair your ability to do the task safely. Note that “other conditions” include a whole range of ailments which become more common over age 50, like diminished hearing/eyesight, arthritis, heart attack, stroke, inability to concentrate, etc. If someone over age 50 is in good health, can safely drive, then what burden does getting retested for a driver’s license every 4 years impose? Ideally, I’d love to retest everyone annually starting from the time they get their license. This is what airline pilots and locomotive engineers go through. However, this would be a very hard sell politically. And you wouldn’t get as much bang for the buck in terms of safety as simply retesting older drivers.

    There is loads of evidence out there which suggests we should be doing this. For example, you have the death/injury rates versus driver age:

    https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/1007/83596.0001.001.pdf?sequence=2;analysis

    See pages 5 to 7. It looks like the rates are very high for young drivers (enough to make a good case for not licensing people under age 25 at all). They plateau from about age 30 through age 60, start to rise after age 60, and rise precipitously after age 65. I still stand by my original proposal of more frequent testing starting at age 50 because reflexes/hearing/eyesight may diminish quite a bit by then but often drivers can compensate, at least until they hit 60 or so. So the testing would at least weed out those who can’t compensate.

    It also looks like I hit the mark by suggesting annual testing after age 65. Rates skyrocket to the point drivers 75 or over are more dangerous than 16 year olds. I saw this with both my parents. My brother and I made my mother stop driving when she was in her early 70s. By that point she drove like she had a few drinks. My late father only lived until 71 and a half, but his driving skills faded to the point I was regularly warning him about things he didn’t notice whenever I rode with him.

    As for me, I’m 55, never got my license, but frankly would have been unable to safely operate a motor vehicle probably from my early 30s on account of severe carpal tunnel syndrome.

    Believe me, I sympathize with people who might fear losing their mobility but it’s a double-edged sword. You have to balance public safety with convenience. Also, if more people were stripped of their license, regardless of age, because they failed a retest, don’t you think public transit and/or cycling/walking would be a lot better because we would put more money into it due to the higher demand? That’s really the problem in this country. In many places we have no real alternatives to driving, so the end result is we continue to let dangerous drivers on the roads. If we had a more balanced transit system, this wouldn’t be the case.

  • Jake Stevens

    Thanks for answering so extensively. I still think such a draconian and expensive testing regime for those still active in the workplace (50s and 60s) is unnecessary and as you point out in regards to universal annual testing, a very hard political sell. I suspect that both your own unfortunate disabilities and lack of driving experience may give you a somewhat dismal view of the health of the middle aged and our driving abilities. I have a license, but no car, getting around by bicycle and mass transit.

  • qrt145

    “If you still have the cognitive ability and reflexes to drive after age 50, then periodic retesting wouldn’t be a burden at all. ”

    I take it you have never had to deal with the DMV? 🙂

  • Joe R.

    I’m actually fairly healthy other than the CTS. The CTS had nothing to do with health issues. It was caused by being forced to do repetitive, manual labor jobs after graduating college because I couldn’t find anything else. After a few years of this, my hands were shot and I could no longer work full-time. I’ve worked part-time at home since my late 20s.

    As for my solution, obviously the benefits versus the rewards would need to be studied. Maybe there’s no need to test people under 65 more frequently than every 8 years. However, everyone should be retested, regardless of age, whenever their license comes up for renewal.

    Regarding the health of the middle-aged, a fair number of people my age are already in assisted living facilities. It’s the obesity epidemic which is the cause of this. And cars definitely contribute heavily to obesity in this country.

  • Joe R.

    I’m debating whether that’s a feature or a bug. If some 65+ year old decides dealing with the DMV to renew their license is too much of a hassle, in many ways that’s a win. One less car on the road, one less driver who statistically is as dangerous as a teenager.

  • Jake Stevens

    Okay. Agree that people in ( self-propelled) motion is a good thing.

  • Julian Ho

    I’ve started this petition yesterday to have New York State re-examine its driver’s license renewal protocol and it already has over 3,500 signatures. Please share this petition widely: https://www.change.org/p/andrew-cuomo-urge-new-york-state-dmv-to-introduce-retesting-every-2-years-once-a-driver-turns-80?recruiter=23481950&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

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