One of the privileges we all cherish is driving. In
one of last yearís articles I emphasized the need to increase the
minimum age for obtaining a driverís license. I also said that at some
point in the future I should discuss senior citizens and their related
driving issues. The recent number of major accidents involving seniors
seems to warrant some additional thought on this topic by all of us.
When to give someone the privilege to drive and when
to take it away can be very contentious topics. I had my driverís
license suspended for two weeks because I told the truth. At the age of 22
I fell asleep on the way home from a school-sponsored activity and hit my
principalís (and neighborís) parked car. I was trying to get home to
go fishing with Dad. Mr. Christina, my principal, and I didnít see the
need to call the police since the damage wasnít that extensive and no
one was injured. The next day I filed the required accident report stating
that I fell asleep and hit a parked car. A few months later I received a
summons to appear in traffic court. The judge said, ďSince this is your
first offense Iím only suspending your license for two weeks for
reckless driving.Ē I asked him, ďYour Honor, since no police officer
was involved, what would you do if Iíd written that I was blinded by
another carís lights ó would the punishment be the same?Ē He said,
ďI must act according to your written statement,Ē to which I
responded, ďDid you ever hear of George Washington and the cherry
tree?Ē I guess getting a break for telling the truth only applies to
future presidents, and the judge didnít think I was in that category.
The two weeks without a license created many
hardships so I can understand how someone might feel if their license to
drive is permanently revoked. As senior citizens get older, they must
realize that losing their privilege to drive could become a reality.
Itís not easy to know when grandpa or grandma must turn in the keys to
the family Buick. Statistics show that older drivers have fewer accidents
and therefore are considered safer drivers. Seniors being classified as
safe drivers doesnít mean that they are better drivers than young
adults. Younger drivers can control a car better than seniors at all
speeds. Their eyesight, hearing, reaction time, strength, and many other
factors make them better drivers. You donít see many senior citizens
driving in the Indy 500. Seniorsí use of good logic and caution is what
makes them safer drivers. They just donít put themselves in dangerous
situations by driving excessively fast or late at night, which translates
into fewer major accidents.
At some age seniors begin to lose the logic
advantage. They also decline physically, and at some point a senior may
become a potentially dangerous driver. I use Interstate 95 on my monthly
trips to Richmond. Trucks arenít permitted in the left lane so many
cautious seniors take advantage of this law and drive in the left lane.
They may be going the speed limit (65) but certainly arenít passing
anyone. Other drivers must pass on the right, creating a dangerous
situation. The fear of high speeds can be a cause of accidents just as
speed itself is a factor. You can drive too slowly.
The debate about when to give a teenager the
privilege to drive involves a short period of time between the ages of 16
to 18. Deciding an age or age range when a senior must give up the
privilege to drive is very difficult. California tried to pass legislation
requiring people over 75 to take road tests. Studies show a significant
increase in senior accidents at this age. Senior-citizen groups protested
and the bill was killed. I believe that such a law is reasonable. The
health of a senior over 75 can change instantly causing a significant drop
in driving ability. The AARP favors better testing, rather than age
limits. I donít believe it should be left up to the children to
determine when to take the keys from dad.
Modern medical science and technology have increased
our life expectancy; therefore, more seniors will be on the road in future
years. Many of these seniors will be driving with known serious medical
problems. Statistics show that drivers over the age of 85 are just as
dangerous as those in the 16-to-19 age group, and have higher fatality
rates. My wifeís uncle Andy just had his license revoked at the age of
96. In a recent conversation with Uncle Andy he mentioned how sometimes
his foot would miss the brake and hit the gas. I guess we as a family were
just fortunate that Uncle Andy didnít have an accident like the one in
Santa Monica, California, where an 86-year-old driver killed 10 people and
injured many more when he drove into a farmerís market. He never did
find the brakes.
Statistics show that 16 percent of drivers are over
65. In three months I will be part of that number. In the next 30 years
one in four drivers will be over 65. These facts will require state
legislatures to pass laws that will protect senior citizens and others.
Senior citizens have gained significant political power in recent decades.
Seniors vote and members of governing bodies understand this. It is a
legislative responsibility to pass laws that provide reasonable assurances
to the general public that senior citizens will not be permitted to drive
unless they meet certain medical guidelines.
Legislators have spent a lot of time on the SOLs
topic in education. Now itís time to spend some brainpower on another
SOL topic ... Standards of Living. We have become a society with an
inordinate amount of freedom. Jump in the car and weíre off to worlds
unknown to our parents. They had to take the train or bus. Now thatís an
idea. Why not improve bus and train service for seniors who canít drive?
Lack of money is probably the reason, but remember seniors now have voting
power and money usually follows the vote. Grandma and I now take the
Amtrak Auto Train to Florida to see the grandkids, much better than
driving all the way. I think discussing the use of trains and other mass
transit could be a good future article.
there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different
view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending
comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org,
or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded
to the author.