Not a long back in 2012, Preston Carter, a 100 years old man, rammed his car into a sidewalk hitting 11 people including 9 children from an elementary school in LA. Though everyone survived the accident, four children suffered critical injuries (Mohajer 2012). This incident again highlighted the issue of the risks associated with the driving of senior drivers, and brought the age old question to the forefront as how old is too old for driving. The statistics of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that although senior drivers constitute only 9% of the population in USA, they account for 14% of all traffic related fatalities and 17% of all pedestrian fatalities (Neporent 2012). Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh together with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has recently submitted a report that shows that the rate of fatality of old drivers aged between 75 and 84 is three times that of teen drivers, but once the senior drivers cross the age 85, the rate of fatality escalates to four times that of teen drivers (Neporent 2012). Since with old age, senior citizens lose their eyesight, reflex actions and hearing, and also the regular dose of different medicines affects their judgment and coordination, it is only a matter of time that they forget to give signal while turning right or drive past a stop sign or mistake the gas pedal for the brake. The reduced physical capabilities and limited vision not only hinder the driving ability of a person but also pose threats to people on the road. Though most of the states within USA have older-age requirements for renewing the driving licenses of the senior drivers, such measure is often subjected to criticism, especially, by those who believe that age should not be considered as the main criterion for reduced driving skills and special old-age laws. The subject is a matter of ongoing debate with many people supporting the idea that it is wise to put the older drivers through an annual test of eyesight and physical ability before renewing their driving licenses while others believe that if the annual test of eyesight and physical ability is made mandatory, then it would be a discriminating act against the senior citizens. This essay would delve deep into the issue weighing the perspectives of both the parties in this regard.
Current Driving License Rules in the US states for Older Drivers
The varied renewal procedures of driving licenses for senior citizens across different states within USA bring about the difference of opinions whether or not age should be the determining criterion for driving. Many states in USA do not differentiate between older drivers and young drivers. For example, states like Alabama, Delaware, Arkansas, Kentucky and Michigan have similar driving laws for all the drivers (IIHS #1 2014). However, 30 states in USA plus the District of Columbia have an array of provisions for senior drivers, ranging from the test of eyesight to making the old drivers renew their licenses more frequently than young people (IIHS #1 2014). For example, in California, a senior driver after reaching the age of 70 cannot renew his license through mail. He needs to be physically present in the Motor vehicle Bureau to renew his driving license. Similar rules apply for Illinois, Louisiana and Nebraska. Illinois, for example, has strict older-age requirement for the renewal of driving licenses for senior citizens who need to clear a road test to get their licenses renewed after they reach 75 years of age. The renewed license remains valid for 2 years for the drivers aged between 81 and 86. Drivers above 87 years of age need to renew their licenses annually (IIHS #1 2014). In states like Maryland and Georgia, people over 65 are required to take a vision test every time they come for the renewal of driving license. Arizona and Colorado have a normal license renewal cycle of 10 years. However, people, over the age of 65, need to renew their driving license every 5 years in these states. One of the strictest laws for old age drivers is in Hawaii. Hawaii has the normal frequency for the renewal of driving license every 8 years for young drivers. However, motor vehicle laws in Hawaii make it mandatory for people over 72 renew their license every two years. No mail renewal is allowed for people over the age of 72. The District of Columbia has the toughest law for senior drivers. Although the renewal cycle remains 8 years even after a person crosses 70 years of age, but after that, each senior driver needs to take a reaction test (IIHS #1 2014). They also need to submit a medical statement from a practicing physician about their being physically and mentally competent to drive.
Myth and Statistics
It is a well-known medical fact that physical reflex decreases with age. The reduced physical reflex and vision affect a person’s ability to drive. As the driving ability gets hampered by the old age related infirmity, most of the senior drivers are considered not to be safe on the road. Not only their driving poses risk to themselves, but also poses danger to the pedestrians. That is the reason why almost all the states have special driving license rules for old age people. Some of the states even bring about changes in laws after high profile accidents. The state of Massachusetts, for example, has made it mandatory for senior drivers over 75 years of age to have an eye exam after an 88-year-old driver ran over a 4 year old child crossing the street in 2009 (Fox News 2012). According to the statistics of the Insurance Institute of Human Safety, the rate of road deaths is one of the highest among people over 70. In 2012, the maximum number of fatalities took place among the age group of 13 to 19. Almost 10,000 teenagers died of road accidents. This number was closely followed by the age group of 70+. Over 5,000 senior citizens died of motor vehicle accidents in 2012 alone (IIHS #2 2014). This is one of the reasons for many states to implement stricter laws for people over the age of 70.
However, a closer inspection of the statistics presents a completely different picture. A casualty in an accident does not prove the point that it was a mistake of the person died. For example, if the people, who died in road accidents, are categorized on the basis of the age of the drivers involved, it is seen that in many cases the senior citizens over 70 years of age were passengers and not drivers. In any fatal road accident, there is almost 54% chance for a senior citizen to die because of the age related inability to recuperate (IIHS #2 2014). However, in many such cases, the drivers who caused the accidents were of younger age group. For example, almost 42% of all the fatal accidents in USA are caused by people aged between 16 and 19. That age group is closely followed by drivers aged between 20 and 29 years (37 percent). Senior drivers over 70 years of age rarely get into accidents (IIHS #2 2014). Many may think that the number of senior drivers is less than that of teen drivers aged between 16 and 19. However, that is not true. In fact, the number of senior drivers is on the rise, and currently, there are more senior drivers driving on the road than the teen drivers. Thus, taking the above statistics into account, it becomes highly debatable if creating stricter laws for the senior drivers will actually improve the safety on the road.
Senior Drivers are Safe Drivers
Statistics show that aged people are more safe drivers compared to younger drivers, and they do get into less number of accidents compared to reckless teenagers. Senior drivers are responsible citizens who do not engage in drunk driving. Statistics show that only 5% of the senior drivers involved in fatal crashes have high level of blood alcohol content whereas almost 25% of the drivers aged between 21 and 64 involved in fatal accidents have higher levels of blood alcohol content (CDC 2013). Furthermore, 77% of the senior drivers wear seat belts while driving compared to 63% of the younger age drivers involved in serious car crashes (CDC 2013). Hence, imposing older-age requirements of annual vision testing and physical ability would be discriminatory and unjustified if age is regarded as the only determining factor for driving inability.
Why Special Driving rules required for Senior Drivers
Just because senior drivers are safer drivers than teenagers do not mean that there should not be any limitation on the driving of senior citizens. The chances of senior drivers to get seriously injured or die in accidents are almost 4 times higher than younger people. This is primarily because of their age related inability to recuperate as noted by many researchers. In case of accidental situation due to lesser physical reflex, many a time, older drivers cannot take necessary measures to protect themselves (CDC 2013). In case of high speed accidents, those split second reflexes can determine the life and death of a person. That is why if a senior driver gets into an accident, even though he is not responsible for the mishap; his chances of being severely injured are high.
Senior drivers are often the slowest drivers on the road. They are often viewed by others as drivers responsible for causing frequent accidents on the road. Many including the lawmakers believe that senior drivers are potential risks for other drivers and pedestrians. However, statistics show that it is not true. As per statistics, despite the total number of senior drivers being higher than that of teenagers, the number of fatal accidents caused by teenagers due to drunk or reckless driving or while texting far outnumber the accidents involving senior drivers. Senior drivers are safe drivers, but they are often victims of road casualty due to their compromised reflexes and vision. It is, thus, important by the lawmakers to ensure that only people with proper reflexes, physical condition and vision are on the road. A criterion laid out for senior drivers to go through eye test and physical reflex test will not only ensure the safety of drivers on the road but will significantly reduce the number of deaths of senior drivers, as well.
Mohajer, Shaya Tayefe. Police: 100-year-old driver hits 11 near L.A. School. USA Today. 30 Aug 2012. Web. 21 Apr 2014 <http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-08-30/elderly-driver-crash/57428968/1>
Neporent, Liz. How Old Is Too Old to Drive?. ABC News. 30 Aug 2012. Web. 21 Apr 2014 <http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/08/30/how-old-is-too-old-to-drive/>
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS #1). Older Drivers. 2014. Web. 21 Apr 2014 <http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/laws/olderdrivers>
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS #2). Older Drivers: Fatality Facts. 2014. Web. 21 Apr 2014 <http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/older-drivers/fatalityfacts/older-people>
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Injury Prevention & Control: Motor Vehicle Safety. 31 Jan 2013. Web. 21 Apr 2014 <http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/older_adult_drivers/adult-drivers_factsheet.html>
Fox News. How states are dealing with older drivers. 17 Sept 2012. Web. 21 Apr 2014 <http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2012/09/17/how-states-are-dealing-with-older-drivers/>