The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is asking all states to address the issue of older driver safety. While advanced age does lead to an increase in fatal car accidents, the increase comes at a later age than many believe. Older drivers do not suffer a fatal accident rate as high as teen drivers until they reach 85 years of age. At that point, the statistics are also skewed by the frailty of the driver and the decreased likelihood that they will survive an accident that leads to injury. Before a state passes laws to restrict older drivers, it should be clear on exactly what issues affect driving skill as one ages.
The head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab put it best. “Birthdays don’t kill. Health conditions do.” No birthday signals the automatic end a person’s ability to drive. Some drivers may become unsafe in their 60s, while others remain safe drivers for decades beyond that point. A hard ceiling that prevents perfectly safe drivers from operating a motor vehicle due to age is not acceptable.
The issue will soon come to a head. The number of drivers past retirement age will nearly double in the next 20 years. Without a massive change in the way Americans travel, age and licensing concerns will continue to create headlines and raise questions. A hasty or ill-informed policy will likely do more damage than taking no action at all.
Like all states, Florida should consider proper methods to determine when a person is no longer safe to drive. License renewal may take on greater significance for people as they get older. Vision tests, medical exams, and road tests could be used with greater frequency, or be based on other indicators to make sure a driver is safe before they get renewed. Whatever is decided, it should be based on facts, rather than on alarming headlines or individual incidents. After all, poor driving is a problem in every age group.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, “Older drivers face confusing array of license laws,” by Lauran Neergaard, 17 September 2012