Are Elderly Drivers Safe for Our Roads?

As a senior citizen was driving down the freeway, his cell phone rang. Picking up, he heard his wife, her voice high with anxiety; warning him, “Henry, I just saw on the news that there’s one car driving the wrong way on Highway 880. Please be careful! ” Henry replied, “What do you mean one? You’ve got to be kidding me. I see at least a hundred! ” Elderly drivers are one of the rising issues in our society nowadays and it’s no joke. Little attention has been given to it despite the increasing number of accident caused by such.

Tests for elderly drivers should be made mandatory and restrictions should be placed on some of them to add more safety and reduce accidents to our roads. Aging is a part of life, it is inevitable and people degenerate with time, it’s the cold hard truth. Reflexes, flexibility, visual acuity, memory and the ability to focus all decline with age. The mind’s reaction time slows, confusion grows and distractions have greater impact. Several vision problems also can interfere with driving like cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

The muscles easily stiffen, motion becomes painful and so glancing over one’s shoulder to look for traffic becomes difficult. Arthritis causes pain on the hands, making it hard to grip on the steering wheel. The knee and ankle joints stiffen too, increasing the possibility of hitting the wrong pedal. * A number of accident cases were reported involving elderly drivers. Perhaps the most controversial in the Dallas area is the Grimes case. In a news article in USA Today, Elizabeth Grimes, a widow who had lived on Meaders Lane for 50 years, had backed out of her driveway, across her lawn and off the curb.

Her 1994 Mercury Grand Marquis then hit the curb across the street, Prager recalls, before Grimes mistook the gas pedal for the brake and “took off with a jackrabbit start. ” Six blocks away, Grimes drove through a red light. The car slammed into Katie Bolka, a 17-year-old high school junior who was driving to school to take an algebra test. Five days later, Bolka died. Another incident was in California, when George Russell Weller, then 86, killed 10 people and injured more than 70 when he drove his Buick Le Sabre into a crowded farmers market in Santa Monica on July 16, 2003.

In Rochester, New York, an eighty-nine year-old man drove “into pedestrians and vendors at an open-air public market”, injuring himself and nine market goers. The police said that the man’s foot “apparently slipped off the brake and hit the accelerator. ” “Fatality rates for drivers begin to climb after age 65, according to a recent study by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, based on data from 1999-2004. From ages 75 to 84, the rate of about three deaths per 100 million miles driven is equal to the death rate of teenage drivers.

For drivers 85 and older, the fatality rate skyrockets to nearly four times higher than that for teens”, as written by Davis and DeBarros on a USA Today report dated May 1, 2007. The statistics involving fatal accidents are similar in both age groups; however the number of accidents involving older drivers will continue to rise as the elderly population continues to increase. According to the same article, there are still “18 states that have no restrictions or renewal requirements for elderly drivers”. Some even allow renewal by mail without any visual tests. “There are only 3 states that require a road test for drivers over 75 years old.

There are 16 states requiring vision tests and only 7 states that require in-person renewal for age 65 and older. Of the states that do require driving tests for the elderly, Illinois is probably the strictest and has perhaps the best preventative measures. ” In Texas, “new restrictions on elderly drivers were endorsed by the House and Senate on March 14, 2007 and was approved on August 29, 2007 –the new law requires drivers 79 and older to renew their licenses in person, rather than over the Internet or through the mail. In addition, drivers 85 and older will have to renew their licenses every two years and must pass a vision test.

” The law, named for a Dallas teen killed by a 90-year-old driver, would mark the first time Texas has required tougher standards for older drivers. This is indeed a very sensitive issue, but a very important one too. Restricting the elderly threatens their independence and well-being, but there is such a thing as “the facts of life’’ and aging is one of them, and aging brings with it limitations. Some elderly people can still drive, but I believe it should be with certain conditions.

The only measure scientifically proven to “lower the rate of fatal crashes involving elderly drivers is forcing the seniors to appear at motor vehicle departments in person to renew their licenses”, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), citing a 1995 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This is a matter of safety for everyone on the roadways.

The risks to others are too great not to take precautions. Driving should be an earned privilege, not a right as some people seem to think. ____________________________________________________________ __________________ Cohn, Jonathan. “Increased Driving Regulations For The Elderly. ”

Albany Government Law Review. http://www.albanygovernmentlawreview. org/articles/2/1/Cohn. pdf accessed 3/23/2010 Lindenberger, Michael. “For license, elderly must go extra mile. ” The Dallas Morning News.

http://www. dallasnews. com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/083007dnmetolderdrivers. 35be979. html accessed 3/23/2010 Davis, Robert and DeBarros, Anthony. “Older, dangerous drivers a growing problem. ” USA Today. http://www. usatoday. com/news/nation/2007-05-02-older-drivers-usat1a_N. htm accessed 3/26/2010 * Interactive : “How aging affects the ability to drive. ” The USA Today. http://www. usatoday. com/life/graphics/elderly_drivers_popup/flash. htm accessed 3/26/2010

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