Courtney Caldwell, a writer for Road and Travel Magazine, stated in one of her articles that, “My mother, insisted her driving skills were as sharp as ever. However, after a few life-threatening trips to the grocery store as her passenger, I knew she had to stop driving. She was driving dangerously close to the curb, her reaction time was poor and she was missing stop signs and traffic lights. Her driving was so bad that I forbade my 32-year-old adult daughter to ever ride as a passenger with her”. (roadandtravel.com) Ms. Caldwell is referring to her mother, an elderly widow, who must drive, as she has no other means of transportation.
In America today, more and more people are driving each day. Currently, there are more cars on the road now, then at any point in America’s past. With all of this new traffic, more and more accidents occur everyday. The group second most responsible for these accidents is the group of drivers age fifty-five and older. “Currently these people make up twenty five per cent of the driving population, and account for eighteen per cent of current auto accidents”. (aarp.org) With all of these accidents, there is still no restrictions or limitations placed on a person, age fifty-five and over’s license. It is my opinion that, at the least, restrictions should be placed on licenses for all people age fifty-five and older.
Currently across the United States, there are very few laws regarding the elderly and driving. In Florida a new law states that people over the age of sixty-five must pass a road test. Florida is the only state to implement such a measure. With the exception of Florida, every other state still puts its elderly drivers at risk.
John Nelson the president of the American medical association said that, “A woman in her eighties in good health may be a safer driver than her twenty year old grandson who happened to be on pain medication for an injury”.(aarp.org) As we age, our bodies age too, and as a result of that we lose some of the most important senses that we use to drive. The most important sense to drivers is vision. “More then fifty per cent of people age fifty-five and older have some sort of problem with their eyesight”.(aarp.org) These problems can make it difficult to see at night, and it can cause them to have difficulty judging distances. Another useful sense that older people begin to loose is the since of sound. “Almost thirty per cent of people aged sixty five have impaired hearing”.(aarp.org) The sense of hearing allows us to hear important warning sounds, like the honking of a horn, or a siren. Hearing helps us to be aware of our surroundings while on the road. Without these two senses being functional, the senior driver is not only a danger to himself but to others as well.
With age, not only do our senses detioriate, but our ability to survive an accident decreases as well. Simply stated, car accidents are more dangerous for older people then they are for younger people. “A person 65 or older who is involved in a car accident is more likely to be seriously hurt, more likely to require hospitalization, and more likely to die than younger people involved in the same crash. In particular, fatal crash rates rise sharply after a driver has reached the age of 70”.(helpguide.org) This is especially proven true, in Florida state, were out of 15,000 auto accidents, three hundred seniors were killed.
The above information is horrifying. Something needs to be done to save our senior citizens. One such solution is to put restrictions on the licenses of the drivers who are aged fifty-five and older. Restrictions should put limits on the times senior citizens can drive at. They should not be able to drive at night, since most senior citizens have poor night vision, and they should not be allowed to drive during rush hour, since that is when traffic is heaviest. Limits should also be put on the maximum distance a senior can drive in a certain time period. Regular medical checkups should also be required to test the visual and hearing abilities of the senior.
Although this idea would protect the senior citizens, it would limit their mobility. Limiting their driving could possibly prevent a senior citizen from getting to a doctors appointment, or it could stop them from going to a pharmacy to pick up necessary medication. This is an even bigger problem. There are however, many solutions to help maintain senior mobility. One such solution is expanding the capabilities of the senior citizen access-a-ride program. This would give transportation to senior citizens in need of it. Senior citizens could also use public transportation, like the bus, or the subway system. Private transportation like taxi’s and livery cabs are also available to them.
The only problem to above mentioned transportation modes, is that they all cost money. An increase in transportation systems, like access-a-ride would call for an increase in taxes to help cover the expenses of the program. With constantly rising fairs of the bus and subway systems, public transportation is becoming more and more costly. Taxi’s and Livery cabs are the most expensive of the three. With more and more senior citizens living on fixed incomes, they can’t always afford to pay these expensive public transportation premiums. The only way of solving this problem is by having higher taxes, which people aren’t always willing to pay.
Alternatives to automatic license restrictions at age fifty-five do exist. One such alternative to this idea is AARP’s 55 ALIVE program. 55 ALIVE was founded in 1979 as a defensive driving course for older people. Not only does it teach defensive driving techniques, but it also teaches age-related physical changes, their effect on driving, and how to adjust to those changes.
The program is currently accepted in thirty-six states as well as the District of Columbia. This program is gradually gaining acceptance. This is because states are begging to mandatory insurance discount laws. If a person satisfactorily completes the course then the person is entitled to an insurance discount.
Currently the program has almost ten thousand volunteer teachers. Each year over 700,000 people take the course. “Numerous evaluations by government entities as well as insurance companies were conducted on the program throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. Most of the research showed a strong and statistically significant correlation of the course to reductions in traffic violations. The relation of the course to actual reduction in crashes, in most cases, was not statistically significant. However, self-reports by program participants have indicated behavior change, with 4 out of 5 graduates reporting that they adjusted their driving behavior as a result of taking the class”.(aarp.org)
Although this program might be successful at teaching senior citizens how to abide by the traffic law, that is all it does. It still does not prevent senior citizens from getting into accidents.
As more and more drivers are on the road each day, we need to be ever cautious of our fellow drivers. One such group of drivers is those who are aged fifty-five and older. Since they are getting older, their ability to drive safely has diminished. Senior citizens are also more likely to be severely injured or killed in an auto accident. By age, they are the second biggest accident group. Studies have proved that the 55 ALIVE driver-training programs were not effective in reducing the number of traffic crashes. Therefore, license restrictions are the answer. The times of day that senior citizens drive and the distances they can drive should be limited. Senior citizens that choose to continue driving should also be made to undergo routine medical exams to test their vision and hearing. An attempt should also be made to expand the ability and lower the cost of public transportation. By doing this, we can protect the lives of our senior citizens, and reduce the number of accidents on the road.