I kept my mouth shut last week. Maybe I shouldn’t have. Seriously, how many elderly drivers have to injure or kill people in the course of just one month before we young whippersnappers do something? Please keep in mind, the month isn’t over yet. More carnage could be coming to a fruit market or street corner near you. Drivers who should not be on the road anymore are a danger not only to us, but also to themselves.
Now, please understand, I do not support simply having a maximum driving age. I do, however, think there needs to be some way to get dangerous drivers off the road. We have ways of getting drunk drivers off the road. We have had great success in reducing the accident rate among young drivers through better instruction and “graduated license” programs. In fact, both of the last two big teenager crashes I can think of involved young people in violation of their license limitations. There must be a way to make sure that elderly drivers are competent behind the wheel.
We can start by making a driving road test mandatory to receive or renew a handicapped parking tag. Every time I see some Mercury or Buick parked badly more or less “in” a handicapped parking spot, I think to myself “Here is someone who couldn’t even wedge their vehicle between the extra wide lines of a handicapped spot at less than 5 mph. How on earth do they manage to keep between the lines of the road at 35 mph, let alone higher speeds?” What about people who need the tag because they drive for a handicapped relative? Let them go to the DMV in person and fill out an affidavit to that affect. It will be up to the professionals at the DMV to determine whether a driving test is necessary. These professionals, by the way, should keep several newspaper pictures of crashes posted prominently in their workspace, as a reminder of what can happen should rules be bent.
Perhaps we should also have regular road tests for drivers over, say, 75. While we are at it, we could say that drivers with certain types and quantities of traffic tickets should get road tests when they renew. I am not talking about a new test every year. Maybe once every 3 to 5 years. And yes, states are going to have to spend some money on testing. They could recoup some losses by having a “retest fee” on any driver who takes a driving test more than once in the course of a month, regardless of age. Such a fee would certainly make marginal drivers rethink their test date. It might make them think twice about retesting at all.
Now lets take a few minutes to examine the criticism to doing much of anything about this problem:
It’s discriminatory! Yes, and so are senior citizen discounts. For that matter, so are retirement villages. You are grown-ups. Deal with it. Life is not always fair.
How are they supposed to get to the grocery store and to Doctor’s appointments? Let me get this straight, we are supposed to allow dangerous drivers to be a menace to people, property, and themselves so they can get to the Doctor’s office? The idea that people whose licenses are revoked will be stranded is certainly a problem, but not so big a problem that we should allow people to drive who are proven to be unsafe behind the wheel. The wonderful thing about a market economy is that I can say without fear of contradiction that someone will come up with a safe and sane solution to this problem.
The driver isn’t always to blame. Often older people drive older cars, which are more prone to mechanical problems such as sudden acceleration, stuck throttles, and failing brakes. If this is valid, then we should also be hearing about a lot more cases of people between 20 and 50 having mechanical failure induced wrecks, shouldn’t we? In the old days, many states had safety inspections, and some still do. Perhaps mores states should have such tests. Often conducted by your friendly neighborhood (but state certified) mechanic, he would among other things they make sure the brakes worked, the the horn was loud enough, and that all the lights worked. These tests were a big pain, but they did make sure unsafe vehicles got fixed or taken off the road. Unfortunately, these tests had the side effect of making cars too expensive to maintain for some poor people, some of whom also happened to be elderly. Of course, this does not address the issue that most “sudden acceleration” is in fact “user error” and that some “failed brakes” may simply be legs too frail to properly depress the pedal in an emergency braking situation.
No matter what you say, elderly drivers still have fewer accidents than teenagers! Yes, that’s true. It doesn’t take into account that elderly drivers drive less. It doesn’t account for the fact that elderly drivers are usually more experienced drivers who should “know better.” And it doesn’t account for the 27% rise in elderly people killed in car wrecks in a decade where total auto fatalities dropped. Besides which, many states now restrict teen driving. They do it because they care, and want their kids to stay alive. Oh, and not kill anybody else either.
You are blaming everyone for a few bad apples. No, we’d just like to get the bad apples off the road to keep all of us safe, even you.
So what if elderly drivers are going a bit more slowly? What’s the problem? What’s your hurry? If all these drivers were doing was going a bit slow, I don’t believe anyone would have a problem. But look at the 10 links to accidents in the first paragraph! How many of those wrecks were caused by “going too slow”? The slow driving is unfortunately often a compensation for slower reaction times and poorer eyesight — both of which cause crashes.
This is an excuse to herd old people into concentration camps! Putting all of us into one place is the only way you can make sure we have “transportation,” and when we are too expensive to take care of you will euthanize us! Do you really think the AARP will allow that to happen?
Driving tests are a bad idea because the test will make Seniors nervous. That almost guarantees they will fail. If they are getting nervous and messing up in a driving test, then they are getting nervous and messing up in traffic emergencies too. Like when that pedestrian steps in front of them. Or the light all of a sudden turns red. Or when the “accelerator sticks.” Or when they see those emergency vehicles in the rear view mirror. Or when that young fool behind them starts beeping because the light turned green a whole second ago. Or when they get cut off in traffic. You can at least study and practice for a test. You can’t study and practice for a traffic emergency.
Hitting the gas instead of the brake can happen to anybody. And when was the last time you heard of this happening to anyone who was not either elderly or inexperienced?
The AARP is going to lobby hard against any change to the status quo. They have to; their membership demands it. However, they are going to have to come up with a better solution than checklists and voluntary driving refresher classes.