Early in the morning of Jan. 2 California Highway Patrol officers stopped an 84-year-old man driving the wrong way on the San Bernardino Freeway in East Los Angeles. Concluding that he was disoriented and confused, they impounded his car and took him home.
Later that morning the man, John Arnold, presented himself at the CHP impound garage and picked up his car. The next day he again wound up on the San Bernardino Freeway, once again driving in the wrong direction. This time he slammed into an oncoming car, killing himself and its 16-year-old driver.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles is properly reluctant to lift the drivers' licenses of people simply because they are old, and there are certainly incompetent drivers of all ages.
But the Arnold case was the second accident in less than a month involving an elderly driver going the wrong way on a freeway. Most of these accidents occur without warning; Arnold's was the exception. The question that the California Highway Patrol and the Department of Motor Vehicles must address is how the warning was ignored and why he was able to get his car back so easily. One of the officers who had stopped him on the freeway urged the DMV in writing to reexamine his license.