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How Old Is Too Old to Drive?

A tragedy in Santa Monica, Calif., makes us ask the question again.
by Eric Peters 7/20/2003


We all know that ten-year-olds are too young to drive. But how old is too old to drive? We have formal age minimums in every state, but no formal age maximums.

Should there be?

The recent deadly accident involving an apparently confused 86-year-old man who lost control of his car and plowed into an open-air farmer's market in Santa Monica, Calif., killing ten and wounding more than 40, has rekindled the debate. If it’s reasonable to restrict access to motor vehicles based upon youth and immaturity, shouldn’t similar logic apply to advancing age and diminishing capacity?

The data and the tragedy

Accident data reflect that older drivers (especially those over 70) have a significantly higher risk of being involved in automobile accidents — especially single vehicle accidents that result from inadvertence, distraction, “falling asleep” behind the wheel, and so on. Nighttime driving is especially risky for older drivers, whose eyes are more affected by glare.

Unlike teens and young males under age 35, the cause of most accidents involving elderly drivers is not willfull recklessness but the declining physical and mental faculties associated with aging — and in the worst cases, a refusal to acknowledge them, and “self-police” by limiting driving, or foregoing driving altogether.

This appears to be what happened in Santa Monica, where 86-year-old Russell Weller drove his Buick at speed down a street that had been closed to motor vehicle traffic, and hit the gas instead of the brake when he realized his error.

“I think what we’re going to find is we have an 86-year-old driver that may not have been as competent as he needed to be to drive,” Santa Monica Police Chief James T. Butts Jr. told Good Morning America.

Weller probably should not have been on the road at all that day. While he had a valid driver’s license and had passed a visual and written exam in 2000, reports indicate he had recently crashed into his own garage on two occasions and was almost certainly an accident waiting to happen. Or worse: one that could have been prevented by more thorough screenings and tighter licensing procedures.

Stricter licensing the answer?

The problem in California, as in many states, is that drivers licensing and testing requirements are inadequate, and not just for older drivers. A cursory written test — mostly consisting of technical arcana such as how many feet one should stop behind a stopped school bus — plus an “eye chart” visual screening, followed by a ten-minute “drive around the cones” road test in the DMV parking lot are often all that is required. Once a first-time driver has passed the parking lot “road test,” few states ever again require a motorist to demonstrate actual proficiency behind the wheel to renew his or her license. (In another notorious case in Santa Monica, a teen was struck and killed by a 96-year-old driver who had not taken a road test since 1918.)

Only a few states test peripheral vision — critical to one’s field of view and to noticing merging traffic — or screen for adequate night vision among older drivers. None require the more substantial “on-road” road tests common in many European countries, where a person seeking a driver’s license must demonstrate competence on actual roads, in actual traffic, and not merely negotiate a couple of pylons in a parking lot at five mph.

If we want safer roads, such tests should be required of all drivers — the elderly included. A thorough road test at time of license issue or renewal would go a long way toward getting marginal drivers off the road, if only by making them confront their poor (or declining) driving skills. Such broad-based road tests would also have the virtue of not singling out the elderly; all drivers would have to successfully pass in order to get or renew their operator’s permit. No one could claim “discrimination,” or bias against the elderly. An 86-year-old who shows he’s still got what it takes to safely drive on public roads could keep right on driving — and just as easily, a 25-year-old who shows he hasn’t got what it takes could be taken off the roads until he

proves he can safely handle the responsibility of operating a motor vehicle.

Drivers over 65, when vision problems and other age-related issues become more common, should also have to pass more frequent (say, every two years up to age 75; then every year after that) visual screenings, including tests of peripheral vision.

There can be no reasonable objection to stricter licensing and testing requirements, since public safety is at issue and other drivers have every right to expect that the person in the next lane has demonstrated a certain basic level of competence behind the wheel. “Bias against the elderly” — or the young — doesn’t enter into it. You pass, you drive. You fail, you walk.

A driver’s license should be more than another form of ID.

http://www.thecarconnection.com/index.asp?article=6215
 

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Deja vu all over again!

We've gone over this a bit here.

It wouldn't surprise me one bit to see a new crop of proposed regulations in the near future trying to weed out impaired drivers whether due to age or other factors. Despite the strong lobby the elderly have for blocking things like this, public opinion might be swayed to the side of greater scrutiny on driving ability.
 

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The test here in TN is to drive around the block, stop at a traffic light, make a turn, go back to the DMV & park. Hmm...my 12 year old daughter could do that.
 

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the Sandman said:
Despite the strong lobby the elderly have for blocking things like this, public opinion might be swayed to the side of greater scrutiny on driving ability.



Don't think they'll be able to sway this either. That Lobby is too strong and don't forget that most of the folks voting are elderly.
 

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Mad'lac said:
Don't think they'll be able to sway this either. That Lobby is too strong and don't forget that most of the folks voting are elderly.
Perhaps. But then again, don't underestimate the power of the media to stir people up. They're really playing this up and it could be just enough to carry the vote. Heck, did you ever think a few years back that smoking would be outlawed in public places due to public health concerns about secondhand smoke?
 

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Discussion Starter #6
the Sandman said:
Perhaps. But then again, don't underestimate the power of the media to stir people up. They're really playing this up and it could be just enough to carry the vote. Heck, did you ever think a few years back that smoking would be outlawed in public places due to public health concerns about secondhand smoke?
I'm going to freeze dry a Big Mac! I think they will become collectable after the health nazi's have them replaced with a soybean patty.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
HotRodSaint said:
(In another notorious case in Santa Monica, a teen was struck and killed by a 96-year-old driver who had not taken a road test since 1918.)
I love this. The last time this guy took a drivers test, he had to crank start his car. Amazing.
 

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the Sandman said:
don't underestimate the power of the media to stir people up. They're really playing this up and it could be just enough to carry the vote.


I hate to say it but in our world today most people won't vote no matter what the issue is. Something about not wanting to be on a jury....
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Mad'lac said:
I hate to say it but in our world today most people won't vote no matter what the issue is. Something about not wanting to be on a jury....
Unless it becomes a proposition, there is no voting on it for John Q Public. It would be the elected monkeys who would actually have to work for their money. Like that'll happen.
 

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Except have of them monkeys are old monkeys as well. I mean it don't matter to me since I won't hit 65 for another 36 yrs. Not like it'll stop me. Of course I'm in favor of bi-annual testing for all drivers regardless of age.
 

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I'm in favor of the way some countries in Europe do it.....You take the test, You get the license, You have it for life...Or until you screw up bad enough to lose it! I think having to go in every 5 years is to often! I think this debate is simply a product of the tendancy of people in this country to over react to almost everything!
 

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Discussion Starter #12
kcnewell said:
I'm in favor of the way some countries in Europe do it.....You take the test, You get the license, You have it for life...Or until you screw up bad enough to lose it! I think having to go in every 5 years is to often! I think this debate is simply a product of the tendancy of people in this country to over react to almost everything!
Yep, most people in this country would never think about reforming the DMV until a tragic incident like this happens. To them all I can say is welcome to the debate. This has been my pet peave for 15 years. I hope their attention span will last until the next hit reality show.

I've read that in Germany it costs $1200 to get your license. And most people don't pass the test the first time. So the price goes up each time you fail. In Germany people actually use their rear view mirrors for something more than applying make-up. And they move to the right.

Hell yeah, I'm all in favor of enacting stricter European driving standards!
 

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Basically anyone can get their license here...... But at least you cant be a 100% retard over in europe to get it......

I would much rather see it done that way than the drive test we have..... Drive around the block, and a written test you could pass of common sense??? Come on!!!
 

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Discussion Starter #14
elwesso said:
Basically anyone can get their license here...... But at least you cant be a 100% retard over in europe to get it......

I would much rather see it done that way than the drive test we have..... Drive around the block, and a written test you could pass of common sense??? Come on!!!
I wouldn't go that far. They let the French drive! :disappoin
 

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Well, whenever their crappy french cars arent broken down......
 
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