Alternatives for elderly drivers in Darien

Darien EMT Dan Connell, second from right, talks with the driver of a car (right) involved in a roll-over on West Avenue in Darien near the Stamford border on March 5, 2010. One car was involved in the accident when the driver hit a tree after a sharp turn on West Avenue, traveled up an embankment and rolled the car. The driver only sustained minor injuries.
Darien EMT Dan Connell, second from right, talks with the driver of a car (right) involved in a roll-over on West Avenue in Darien near the Stamford border on March 5, 2010. One car was involved in the accident when the driver hit a tree after a sharp turn on West Avenue, traveled up an embankment and rolled the car. The driver only sustained minor injuries.Kerry Sherck / Stamford Advocate Freelance/Contributed Photo

Dimitrios Skrepetis, 87, of Stamford was driving east on West Avenue near Holmes Avenue at 3:37 p.m. on Friday, March 5, when he lost control of his 1989 Cadillac two-door and rolled over, according to police.

While driving near a sharp curve, Skrepetis crossed over to the other side of the road, struck a tree, rolled over and slid 50 feet on his roof before coming to a rest; witnesses told police the driver did not appear to be speeding. Skrepetis told police his brakes did not appear to be working properly.

"Hey may have hit the gas," said Capt. Fred Komm.

This was the second car accident in Darien involving an octogenarian driver in less than a week.

The previous weekend, a 15-year-old Darien boy was struck by a Toyota sedan in a hit-and-run incident on Hoyt Street, sending the teen to Norwalk Hospital, where he was originally listed in critical condition. The boy, who police have not named, has since been released from the hospital and is recovering at home, police said.

Two days later, Paul Plepis, 89, of Stamford came forward as the driver, after seeing an article in last Sunday's paper about the investigation. At the time of the incident, Plepis thought he hit a branch, Sgt. Jeremiah Marron said.

"It cracked the windshield. He just didn't notice the windshield until he got home, then didn't figure it out until he read it in the news reports," said Plepis' attorney, Mark Sherman.

"I think this has shaken him up to a point where he doesn't want to drive any more," Sherman said.

Plepis surrendered his driver's license to police. Skrepetis, who will celebrate his 88th birthday on Monday, still has a valid license, according to Komm.

Marron said assessing the abilities of senior citizens affected by medical conditions and how their ability to drive safely is often a more difficult call.

"Today, I'm seeing a larger number of elderly drivers on the road," Marron said, citing the large population of baby boomers becoming senior citizens. "When you talk about withdrawing or seizing their license, it is an extremely sensitive topic ... you're basically taking away their freedom."

There are no laws in Connecticut requiring additional written or road tests for drivers over the age of 65.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, the majority of older American drivers will outlive their driving ability by about seven to 10 years.

Often times, this places the weight of the driving decision on families and loved ones, according to Jennifer Millea, associate state director of communications for AARP Connecticut.

"It's an issue that families nationwide are struggling with, and it can be a very sensitive and touchy topic," Millea said. "AARP encourages families to talk openly with their loved ones about safe driving practices."

There are several warning signs that can trigger the need for discussion with loved ones, including frequent close calls or near accidents, traffic tickets or warnings, and noticeably slower response times, Millea said.

"When people see those signs and have concerns, we recommend talking openly with loved ones," she said. "It's important for the person to know that you're coming from a place of ... love and concern for them and their safety, because it's hard; especially now when so many people live in the suburbs and there aren't a lot of transportation alternatives. Giving up the keys is a big deal.

"In many cases, it can mean giving up your freedom and independence, and it's not meant to be taken lightly," she said.

In Darien, there are several options for alternative transportation, including the Gallivant door-to-door transportation service and half-price taxi vouchers, according to Olive Hauser, director of the Town's Social Services Department.

"Gallivant is a van that is available to pick up people who are elderly or disabled, and bring them almost anywhere they want to go," Hauser said. "Haircuts, medical appointments, grocery shopping, friends' houses, lunch -- anywhere they like."

The service runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays through Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays. The 12-passenger van will pick up Darienites at their home, and deliver them back after their outing, according to Hauser.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 79 percent of traffic fatalities involving drivers over the age of 65 occurred during daytime; 72 percent occurred on weekends.

The service comes with a $5 requested donation, but Hauser notes that it's just a request.

"It's a great service, and it's also wheelchair accessible," she said. "If somebody's... unable to get off and on without help, we ask they bring someone with them."

Darienites can make arrangements for van transportation by calling 203-655-2227. Calling a day ahead for regular trips and a couple days ahead for doctors' appointments is best, Hauser said.

"We also take last minute requests," she said. "As long as we can fit you in, we will."

The van travels to most places in Stamford and Norwalk and throughout Darien, making it convenient for most errands, Hauser said.

"I think it's under-utilized," she said.

"It's really friendly service. It's very simple to use, and we would hope people would give it a try," she said. "I would think that people sometimes prefer to get a ride with a friend, or perhaps use their own transportation, when in reality the Gallivant might be easier for them."

The Department of Social Services also provides half-price taxi vouchers for seniors and disabled Darienites, Hauser said. The vouchers come in increments of $5, for which eligible residents pay $2.50; the department asks that people purchase five at a time, she said. They are used in cooperation with Eveready Taxi.

"Some people take them when they're planning some surgery and they know they won't be able to drive," Hauser said. "Or during the evenings when Gallivant does not drive. We think it's a good addition to options for transportation."

The Senior Center is also preparing to offer the AARP Driver Safety Program next month. The program will take place at the senior center, located at 30 Edgerton St., on Tuesday April 20, and Wednesday, April 21 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The course, which is offered three times a year at the center, costs $12 for AARP members and $14 for non-members. Darienites can sign up to participate by calling the senior center at 203-656-7455.

"The course is designed to educate participants about how best to reduce traffic violations, crashes, update knowledge about relevant laws and provide safe-driving strategies for age related changes," Millea said. Connecticut drivers over the age of 60 who graduate from the two-day program are also eligible to receive a discount on their auto insurance, she said.

"We're all responsible for keeping our own skills, and there is no magic age, but we recognize that as people age, certain physical and cognitive changes take place that could affect one's ability to drive," Millea said.

For more information about the AARP Driver Safety Program, visit


Staff writer Martin B. Cassidy contributed to this report.