Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Senior drivers: should they continue to drive?

Current opinion: Drivers over age 65 should pass a driving test every two years

My grandmother drove until her death at the age of 84. And it wasn't until after her funeral that I learned she had been driving for years 'with one eye closed so she could see the road better'. Evidently, having both eyes open caused some kind of blurriness and closing one eye gave her better vision.  I never knew about this because I lived 400 miles away and whenever I would visit her, I would do the driving.

I remember her telling her son-in-law a few years earlier 'please don't take my car away from me'. She learned to drive later in life, but had been driving for decades. And she drove a friend to breakfast the day she died.

If I had known she was a hazard on the road, I would have talked long and hard with her about giving up her keys. I would have talked about all of the alternatives that were available to her including public transportation, elderly transportation provided by the city, getting rides from friends, and anything else that would be a viable option.

I was mortified to find out that she couldn't see well while driving and could have injured or killed pedestrians or other drivers.

Motor vehicle deaths per 100,000 people (2002):
[Auto Crash Statistics from Grain Dealers Mutual Insurance]

     Age Deaths
  • 16-19  29
  • 20-24  19
  • 25-29  12
  • 30-34   9
  • 35-39   9
  • 40-44   9
  • 45-49   8
  • 50-54   8
  • 55-59   7
  • 60-64   9
  • 65-69   9
  • 70-74  11
  • 75-79  14
  • 80-84  17
  • 85+    24

Seniors have similar rates of fatalities as Teen drivers.  But Seniors drive less frequently than Teens.  And people are living longer and healthier lives than ever before. 
There are many reasons why Seniors want to continue to drive.  All of them for the same reasons everyone else wants to drive: for pleasure, for emergencies, for day-to-day activities.  There is nothing special about Seniors driving that is any different than their children other than most Seniors are retired and are not driving to work every day.

We have different driving requirements for Teen drivers because we know they are a risky demographic.  In some states they are unable to drive with anyone in the car that is under 25 without an adult also along for the drive.  Many states don't allow Teen drivers to drive between 11pm and 5am.  Senior drivers, as a group, also are a risky demographic.  When Is Too Old To Drive? (
States are making some changes, like making road signs larger or easier to read, and implementing more frequent 'driving tests' for Senior drivers.  While all Seniors are not risky drivers, not all Teens are risky drivers.  But we require Teens to adhere to the same restrictions.  So, while having Seniors take a driving test every two years is inconenient, it will make the roads safer.  And society needs to help by providing more public transportation and Senior transportation.  The Baby Boomers are coming and will almost double the number of people over 65.
New opinion: (changed) Drivers over age 70 should pass a driving test every two years
More information:
Florida Drivers Drive Til They Drop (Suddenly Senior)

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