Media Stories About Elders Ring Hollow
The Retailing of Healthcare

Elder Drivers - Pro and Con

At first glance, the statistics appear to be devastating. According to The Wall Street Journal, quoting insurance industry statistics and the federal government:

“…older drivers, the fastest-growing demographic on the road and increasingly among the most dangerous…Motorists 85 and older now surpass 16-year-olds in frequency of fatalities per mile driven, and nearly match teenagers in rates of insurance claims for property damage…”
- The Wall Street Journal, 25 March 2006 [subscription required]

But then, there is this:

“A 2004 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study compared fatal crashes nationally by age group adjusted for the number of miles traveled. In that study, drivers across the country, ages 65 to 74, were in fatal crashes two times for every 100 million miles driven, slightly more often than the 1.6 involving drivers ages 35 to 64 and the same as those 25 to 34 but still far less than teens and 20 to 24 year olds.
- The Journal-Gazette, 26 February 2006

Obviously, the statistics in the two stories compare apples and oranges. And that is a crucial point, rarely made clear in the national campaign that is building steam to restrict elder driving. There is a big difference between the capabilities of the young-old and old-old.

Additionally, recent reports tend to offer fender benders at any age past 65 as proof that elders are incompetent drivers, although younger drivers are not so accused for the same "crime."

The backlash against older drivers is hitting close to home these days as I prepare to move to Portland, Maine, and will be buying a car within the next few weeks. I am acutely aware that the day wll come, sometime in the future, when declining faculties will make it necessary for me to turn in my keys, but it is difficult for anyone to know when that time arrives.

As the number of elders increases dramatically in the next few years, there are questions all elders, and local governments and communities, need to consider: Should a different kind of testing be required for elder drivers? If so, at what frequency? Should there be a standard cutoff age for driving in later years as we have for teenage beginning drivers? Are there medical conditions that should automatically require revocation of driving privileges? Should there be an age at which license renewal by mail is no longer allowed?

Also critical is what alternative transportation can or will communities provide when elders can no longer drive but are capable of living independently? According to the Beverly Foundation, which promotes alternative transportation for elders,

“…about two-thirds of seniors live in low density suburbs or rural areas - both offer fewer transportation alternatives.”

Another concern is that people age at dramatically different rates. Some 60-year-olds have declined enough that driving is hazardous. Others, at 80, are still safe drivers. But bureaucracies are not designed for determining such subtleties. We allow drivers licenses to all 16-year-olds who pass the road test whether they are emotionally mature enough to drive safely or not because it is convenient. So any age restrictions we may enact are bound to cut off the freedom of movement to many elders who should not be denied a license.

The reverse of this issue is brought home in the Wall Street Journal piece which focuses primarily on attorneys who help elders regain licenses after they have been deemed unfit to drive:

“Charles Navarro was 100 years old when he smacked into the back of another car while tooling down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles in his cherry-red Cadillac Sedan de Ville. California decided that his driving days were over…

“Mr. Navarro's wife saw [attorney] Mr. Kendall's newspaper ad and telephoned him.

“Mr. Kendall showed his client a training video he made with tips and pep talks about keeping a positive attitude. He sent him to driving school and guided him through written and road tests. Mr. Navarro regained his license, only to lose it a second time after another fender bender on busy Wilshire. With Mr. Kendall's help, he recouped his license again in 2005.”

As much as I am inclined to oppose an arbitrary cutoff age for driving, allowing a 100-year-old a license does seem to be a case of bureaucratic madness although the story’s end is both happy and ambiguous:

“Last September, Mr. Navarro drove his wife to dinner at the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Barbara. One week later, he died at home in his sleep at 101. His license wasn't set to expire until 2009.” [emphasis added]

No one wants to give up freedom of movement and most elders do not live in communities where such simple necessities as shopping for food or seeing the doctor are possible without a car. Nevertheless, the safety of everyone is at stake.

As an aging population makes the driving issue for elders more urgent, it is important for local governments and communities to find a balance between safety for the general population and fairness to capable elders. It will not be easy.

Related Story: Elder Transportation
[Hat tip to Deejay at Small Beer for the WSJ piece.]

Comments

one of the pluses for moving to new york city was that we had to own TWO cars. imagine: kids gone, and there was no way to get around baltimore without a car. and we lived in the city of baltimore, not the suburbs.

individualism gone amok has left americans with inadequate mass transit and pollution. elders in the suburbs are particularly vulnerable to isolation as they are encouraged to stay in their individual houses and must drive everywhere. i seem to be saying that i have no answer to a situation created by corporate desires underwritten by government policies.

First of all, I don't think that 16-year-olds should be allowed to drive. I don't think that privilege should be given until you're legally completely responsible for your own actions.

But, it seems to me that the figures for 65-74-year old drivers may be a bit worse than their face value because you'd assume that these drivers probably wouldn't be driving during rush hour, at the busiest times of the day.

Also, I'm a bit more interested in collision statistics than fatality statistics. "Safe = not dead" is problematic to me.

The ability to operate a motor vehicle safely has to be of paramount importance. I favor a test for elderly citizens as well as the youngest drivers. It is practical and rational to do so. It is also in the public interest.

Watching relatives age, we all wanted my aunt to take the keys away from my uncle. But he was a difficult man, at best, and as the time to renew his license approached, she procrastinated, knowing that the state would do the work for her. That being said, it would seem that our state does not have guidelines for these sorts of scenarios, and at this point in time, renewal is the same for everyone. You get a pamphlet in the mail along with the test, you fill in the test and present it in person to the local authorities.

So, there stood my uncle, with Parkinson's, shaking so severely that he had to "anchor" his writing hand to the desk with his other arm in order to sign his new license!

So, like others, I can say I have no answers, although I am too well aware of the problems. My mother quit driving on her own. But not until after she had scared herself at least twice (that she's telling). As for me? I would like to stay on my small farm. You know the one. 20 miles from the closest anything? There is no public transportation here obviously, but as I ponder it, I'm not sure where the closest community is with public transportation.

Good of you to begin this discussion. I will be checking back to read the ideas of others. (Oh yeah, I got my first license at 14 - with restrictions for driving only to and from school - I was usually on the bus - and of course, the driving on farm errands. Which covered nearly all driving to anywhere from the above mentioned farm, as "recreation" wasn't part of the family vocabulary.) But that was a different time, wasn't it?

In the UK a learners permit is available at 17. Any license earned after that expires on one's 70th birthday no matter what. They can be reclaimed through retesting - not sure of the specifics - and licenses are regularly lost/regained on medical grounds (no matter what one's age) based on such things as stroke, brain surgery, etc.
It seems to work and no-one seems to be offended, that I know of.

In Australia, licenses expire every 1-5 years depending on the type of license you are eligible for and subsequently purchase. If you let it lapse I beleive you have to re-take your test. Not sure though if it is rescinded on any given birthday.

Perhaps it just a case of people getting their heads around the fact that, just because you took a test 'way back when', it doesn't mean you can have access to a license ad nauseum (rather it being than an age issue per se). There are a whole RANGE of people out there that drive well, just as there are those that shouldnt be let within a country mile of the drivers seat.

One day my Mother, then age 84, handed me her car keys, saying 'the car is yours...you need a new one anyway'. I have no idea what happened and she refused to discuss it. I hope that whatever HER wisdom was is also mine and that I, too, will KNOW when to stop driving. Until that day......

Ronni,
Americans drive too much and too long. I drive only occcasionally now and never at night. I do believe I'm about as sharp as I ever was but there's no denying I'm not as quick. That scares me and it should scare others.
Driving, like education should be thought of as a privilege and responsibility rather than a right. If a person, no matter what his age, can't be an objective judge of his own capabilities---or disabilities someone else should make those decisions for the good of us all.

I have no problem with that. And anybody who isn't letting their ego drive them around shouldn't either.
lucyd

Any single factor is not sufficient to determine who should be able to drive. Age is a prime example of this signle factor as indicated in Ronni's posting and in the comments, there are good examples on both sides of the coin.

So let's define what makes a good driver? How do we ensure that only good drivers get licenses and get to keep them?

It can't be a single age factor. (see above)

It can't be a sex factor. (let's not go there)

It can't be a single financial factor. Although with the price of cars, gas, and insurance, the ability to afford a car is rising and pricing some otherwise qualified folks out of the driving pool.

What factors would you include in the test to determine who got a license?

I, too, am opposed to an arbitrary selection of a designated specific age when a driver should give up their driving license. I believed this 30 or 40 years ago, and nothing during the ensuing years has convinced me otherwise.

I would hate to see public policy of this sort based on anecdotal news stories we have thrust at us on TV news and talk shows, in newspapers and magazines by so many of those who just "need a story" by deadline as is increasingly the case.

Statistics can be used to prove just about anything from any point of view and perspective and they frequently are. There is a time for common sense and judgement to prevail.

I could easily accept, at a certain age, no longer being able to renew my license by mail for many years in the future. I would have no objection to demonstrating my driving skills in a vehicle to a properly trained non-ageist driving examiner at designated intervals.

I have also believed for most of my life, certainly my adult life, that the rest of society needs to make room for the older and the less able among us. We ALL are possibly going to join one or the other groups, maybe both, the latter at any given moment, at some time in our life.

Maybe we need a massive education campaign for elders to take responsibility for assessing their sensory skills, reflex times, with medical assistance; to drive in slow lanes, to avoid busy traffic times if possible, to stay off the freeway, to not drive when the sun goes down, etc.

As important, is the education of the rest of the population to be more tolerant of the driver in the slow lane, along with considerations others may offer.

It might be worthwhile to investigate the viability of a virtual driving test.

A movement clearly is needed to make transportation available to all without vehicles of their own within population clusters. Those who are more isolated outside of municipalities might find themselves more limited in their options, or, unfortunately, find they had to be totally dependent on their own social network. Another solution for them is, they just might have to move.

There are numerous communities across this United States that do have in place transportation for those without vehicles at nominal cost, or even less for the neediest. Communities without such transportaion, individuals within those communities, must take responsibility for trying to set up a similar system where they live.

For others, the frequent practice in a number of major cities, i.e. NYC includes not even owning a vehicle, instead using taxis with monies that would have been spent on a car. Some people seem to think that's a luxury. Attitudes may need to change in that regard.

I recall living in a very small college town many years ago, when a delightful Scottish couple arrived who had, among other places, lived in London, then NYC. The whole town was abuzz because "they take a taxi, everywhere!" The couple couldn't understand why so many thought they were so strange. We shared many laughs over that misperception.

Many others must have had these same thoughts, ideas, and even far superior ones as I have expressed. I do hope we all get to read them. I hope that some of them can come in to use to solve this problem, since so many of us will benefit.

From my blog:

January 28, 2006
Driving
There has been some to-do made, lately, about getting older drivers off of the roads in the USA. My answer is: I'll go along with getting older drivers off of the roads, the day after we get the teen-aged drivers off of the road. You've probably already seen the results recently published of some research on the issue. A quote from an online article is below.

Teenagers have long been the riskiest on the road. AAA's analysis shows that unlike elderly drivers, who mostly kill themselves when they crash, new teen drivers involved in wrecks have an impact far beyond their own families.

As much as I hate to see a person go out and kill him/herself in an accident, I really hate seeing them go out and kill someone else! For the entire posting, see Teen Drivers a Potential Threat to More Than Just Selves. Have a great day!

P.S. This posting was written by one who obtained a driving license at age 22.

My mother is almost 86 and has limited her own driving to places she is comfortable navigating. Since she lives in a small town, she can go anywhere there she wants to safely for herself and others. She still drives well and knows her limitations.

Since as a younger driver I complained so much about "old people who shouldn't be driving," I'll become what I've criticized, and my children will have to force the keys from my hands. Maybe I can be like my mother and know when I need to quit driving. What a pain that will be to have to depend on others to go to the grocery and run errands.

This topic hits very close to home for me. My mother drove too long. At 88 she had a small stroke while backing out of a parking place at the supermarket she frequented -- hit three cars and three people, killing one.

She was never the same again. Driving had been central to her own sense of her independence. She was the driver in the family -- my father took the bus to work; she drove. She drove all the neighborhood kids on outings.

And when she got old, she kept driving. She did get me come and take her on a couple of long road trips, but driving around town was what she did and who she thought she was.

She shouldn't have been on the road. I hope I'll know when to stop, but we've created a horrible social problem by making "freedom" a matter of individual transport.

I'm a senior in high school and in our government class we are doing a mock congress. My "bill" involved testing the elderly on their driving skills and reflex times to make sure that they are still safe drivers. My grandfather is 66 years old and still driving, but sometimes he doesn't see everything around him. One time I was with him when he pulled out in front of a car that nearly hit us and told me he didn't even see it. The car was in plain view. Something does need to be done, but we can't just take away the elderly's drivers licsences without providing alternate means of transportation.

Is there an elder driving test available in the state of Connecticut? My mom of 78 wishes to still drive but the family feels strong about not having her drive. If there was a test then the Bad Guy would be the State of CT...It might simplify the anger that an elder person feels about the reality of handing over the keys for good. Sometimes pride has to take a backseat.

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