Elderly Drivers

 

The next issue I would like to address is the problem we have of elderly drivers.  I’m sure most, if not all, of you (assuming there’s actually anybody that reads this) have heard of the incidents involving senior citizens losing control of their cars and running over people.  In California a week or two ago there was a man in his 70s driving through a shopping center parking lot and when he pressed down on the gas pedal thinking it was the brake, he subsequently ran over 10 people.  A similar incident occurred in Florida.  Every day there are reports of senior citizens being involved in serious automobile accidents, almost always seriously injuring or killing themselves or others.  This is a problem that needs immediate attention.  As always, however, the politicians of this country are primarily concerned with not hurting feelings.  Somewhere along the way, allowing senior citizens to continue to drive has become some sort of right that seems to rank up there with freedom of speech and freedom of the press..  What’s the first thing that teenagers are told about driving responsibly?  “Driving is not a right, it’s a privilege.”  Evidently there is an age at which time that statement become reversed.

 

It is a proven and accepted fact that driving is completely dependant on one’s senses and their ability to react quickly to things.  A vision test and physical are given prior to obtaining a learners permit for this reason.  It is also a proven and accepted fact that as people progress in age and become older, their senses become dulled and their ability to react quickly to things becomes inhibited.  Given these facts, how can anyone draw a conclusion other than restricting senior citizens’ driving privileges as they get older?  There are many possible solutions to this problem.  Some states have started implementing programs that give senior citizens easier access to free or reduced fare public transportation.  Some states also allow senior citizens to trade in their car for credits to use on the public transportation system.  Another possible solution could be much like the Junior Drivers License for drivers between the ages of 16 and 18 which restricts the hours at which they can drive.  The first step, of course, should be testing.  These could cover things such as reaction times, vision, night vision, coordination, motor ability, etc.  If any of these tests show that the driver's skills are diminishing, they would receive a Senior Drivers License which restricts the hours at which they can drive; i.e. not being permitted to drive after dusk; as well as restricting how far away from their home they are allowed to drive.  This would solve two issues:  preventing accidents associated with even further diminished vision resulting from darkness and preventing accidents associated with being unfamiliar with their surroundings and driving unsafely.  Tests should also be administered frequently to seniors to verify that their skills are still sufficient to allow for safe driving.

 

It is very common for people to automatically equate fast driving with unsafe driving and slow driving with cautious and safe driving.  This is definitely not the case, however.  On a major road near my house with 2 lanes going each direction and a posted speed limit of 50mph, it was about 11:00pm and as I’m driving along, of course at about 65mph, I come up to a car driving almost perfectly right over the dotted white line, going about 40mph.  Once we reached a wider portion of the road I was able to pass the car, which coincidently was being driven by a senior citizen.  Please let me know how this can be considered safe.  Sure I was exceeding the speed limit, but I was able to see the other car with adequate time to slow down and avoid a collision, so how am I driving unsafely?  If there were a cop in that area, I would definitely bet that I would get pulled over much sooner than the senior citizen would.

 


 

 

The following is a speech that I wrote for my Public Speaking class during my Freshman year.  A lot of it is repetitive of what I’ve already said and pretty poorly written, but I’m including it because it has some real examples and statistics that I think can help the case.  I hope it proves to be informative.

 

Imagine it is summer vacation and you and four of your friends decide to take a trip to go to attend a concert, but all that you get is a trip to the hospital after your car swerves out of control and flips over after an encounter with a reckless driver with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Well if your friend was driving and his name was Jason Suroff, you don’t have to imagine this because your friend Jason is now dead as a result of this accident.   It doesn’t require an imagination to realize the danger that elderly drivers can potentially pose on the roads.  I’m sure all of us have been, at one time of another, cut-off by an oblivious senior citizen behind the wheel.  Or been driving on the interstate and get caught behind another senior citizen going 15 mph under the speed limit.  One common rebuttal to such arguments is that teenagers like us are more dangerous at the wheel, so these scenarios are our fault and the senior citizens are just more “cautious;” therefore many states have made laws restricting teenagers’ driving privileges.  The truth is that elderly drivers are just as dangerous as teenage drivers are reputed to be, if not more dangerous.  Not much attention is ever paid to the number of traffic accidents and fatalities caused by our older citizens because they are accredited with wisdom and experience, whereas teenagers are accredited with foolishness and ignorance.  The only way to solve this problem is to identify its causes.  After its causes are identified, then an effective solution can be implemented.  After an effective solution is implemented, then thousands of lives of people like Jason will be saved.

 

Identifying the problem we have here is a lot easier than believing it.  The problem is that the elderly are a great danger on the road.  Why we can’t believe it is because teenagers are allowed on the road too, and there is no way that teenagers are more responsible and capable than the elderly.  According to www.insure.com, from 1988 to 1998, the number of fatalities caused by teenage drivers went from 4,619 to 3,427, a decrease of 26%.  During the same period of time, deaths caused by drivers over the age of 70 went from 2,333 to 3,266, an increase of 40%.  From 1987 to 1997, the number of licensed drivers over the age of 70 saw an increase of 45%.  Clearly there has to be a correlation.  As I’m sure all of you know, teenagers have gotten the rap of being the reckless drivers of our society.  You’ve probably gotten the lectures from your parents, as have I, about the issue of insurance.  Insurance companies have taken policies that very much reflect the common mentalities I mentioned previously.  Therefore, teenagers are labeled “high-risk drivers” and are given high, expensive premiums whereas seniors are given premium discounts, which in essence encourage them to be out on the road.  This alleged problem does have its opponents.  Kent Lambert, a retired postal worker, said “when you come to a certain age, you become more cautious and drive at the pace where you know you can react.”  However, this is not always the case.  It is certainly feasible that he may be that way, but a lot of people aren’t.  Take Robert Knechtel for instance.  He wrote an article about his 84-year old father who recently drove himself to the hospital during a heart attack, rather than going through the expense and trouble of an ambulance.  Finally, after being told by his doctor that he just can’t drive anymore, his father reluctantly surrendered his keys to his son.  Clearly that is a lack of good judgment.  That takes us to the causes of this problem.

 

There can be several causes behind this growing problem, however there is one main cause that is without a doubt at the root.  It cannot be argued that seniors’ mental and physical abilities gradually deteriorate and eventually can fail as they age.  An article in the Sacramento Bee newspaper reports that common age-related problems with eyesight, dementia, or side effects from medications may hinder abilities of older drivers.  In addition, seniors are not able to react as quickly as younger drivers, which is a cause of countless other accidents.  Seniors pose a higher risk for physical injury, which can affect their driving.  Also, according to the Road Management & Engineering Journal, older drivers have a poorer understanding of traffic signals than younger drivers do.  Tests were done in a classroom environment with younger drivers and older drivers 65 and older.  The subjects were asked to just interpret various traffic signs that they were shown.  In all cases except for the right turn sign, the younger drivers scored higher than the older drivers.  This clearly would be a cause of confusion, and danger, among older drivers.  Now that we have identified the problem and it’s causes, the next logical step is to propose possible solutions to this problem.

 

There are a number of different angles that can be taken to approach this problem.  Two are most obvious.  We can adapt the roads to be more “user friendly.”  Or we can start to in effect phase out elderly drivers and try and get them off the roads.  Several policies have been proposed from both angles.  There have been plans proposed to increase the size of traffic lights, or limit the number of signs at intersections to help eliminate confusion.  A better solution is to implement policy to discourage seniors from driving, and also to prevent high-risk drivers from getting behind the wheel.  Once such proposal in Missouri, according to the Missouri Digital News, involves all drivers between the ages of 16 and 74 taking mandatory written and road tests every nine years before they can renew their license.  Then drivers between the ages of 74 and 80 would test every 3 years, and drivers above the age of 80 would test every year.  An amendment to that same proposal adds mandatory physical exams for elderly drivers.  In this case, there are only pros and no cons.  Capable drivers would pass the tests with no problems and can get right back to cruising on the highway.  In turn, unsafe drivers would be taken off the road and so would the danger.  Dangerous teenage drivers would also be taken off the road, so it would be killing two birds with one stone.  The Detroit News talks about a program in Oregon allows seniors to trade in their cars for “mobility credits,” which can be used toward free trips on public transportation.  Insurance companies are also considering eliminating the premium discounts they give to seniors.  Opponents to such policies claim that we would be short-changing the seniors, which we would be infringing on their rights.  That brings up an interesting point.  However, driving is not a right, it is a privilege.  Therefore, if these people have proven themselves to be dangers on the road, then they should lose their privilege to drive.

 

The roads are a dangerous place.  By taking incapable drivers off of those roads, you not only save their life but the lives of all the people they could potentially be involved in accidents with.  It is not an issue of rights; it is an issue of public safety.  Close to 3,300 people were killed in 1998 by elderly drivers.  That is an unnecessary statistic.  Now you may be asking yourself, ok, so now what.  Well there is something you can do.  Write your congressman or congresswoman.  Tell them that getting unsafe drivers off the roads should be a top priority and demand that they give it their fullest attention.  We don’t need to hear of any more horror stories about people like Jason Suroff.  This has to be put to an end.

 


 

It is important to point out that I'm not trying to say that age should be the sole determining factor for driving privileges.  There are several; perhaps even a majority; of seniors that still are perfectly capable of driving safely and without problems.  However, there is a growing number of seniors that are not capable of driving safely and it is them that we should be worried about.

 

 

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