Last month, a 100 year-old man backed his car out of his driveway and into a group of children outside an elementary school. In the process, he injured nine kids--four of whom were listed in critical condition. The elderly driver did not accept responsibility and, instead, claimed his brakes malfunctioned.
This case raises the sensitive but important topic of driver age limits. Is there a certain age by which a driver should no longer be allowed to drive? Alternatively, is setting an arbitrary age limit unfair and, if so, how do we protect society from elderly drivers who can no longer drive safely?
Older drivers are considered among the safest drivers on the road--until they approach age 75. Statistically, once a driver becomes older than 75, they are just as likely to be involved in an auto accident as a teenager. The most common violations cited to drivers over 75 include failing to obey traffic signals, failing to yield the right away, unsafe turns, and unsafe lane changes.
Most senior citizens are understandably very reluctant to give up their driver's license. Giving up their ability to drive is tantamount to giving up their freedom and independence. However, it is an undeniable fact that as we get older, our physical and cognitive skills begin to diminish. These are the very skills needed to operate a vehicle safely.
Most states do not have any age limitations on elderly driving, although some require periodic driver tests once a driver reaches a certain age in order to demonstrate competency. In states that have no restrictions, the responsibility of deciding when a driver should no longer be allowed to drive for safety reasons falls on the driver and/or their children. For many older drivers who have become unsafe, they continue to drive because they are unwilling or unable to recognize they are a danger to themselves and others. As result, it is often not until the driver starts causing a number of car accidents that the government steps in and revokes their license. However, by then, the driver may have already caused an auto accident resulting in serious personal injury or death.
In the case of the 100 year-old-man who backed into a nine school children, he says his brakes failed. Assuming his brakes were fine, this man is likely a serious risk to himself and others. Initial reports indicate the police did not file any charges against the driver. However, the police did seize his vehicle to presumably investigate his allegation of mechanical failure.
In the end, the real issue is not driver age but the driver competence. There are plenty of senior citizens who are safe and responsible drivers. However, if we are not going to set an arbitrary age when a driver must give up their license, then there must be age when a driver should have to demonstrate competence in order to continue driving. Otherwise, an elderly driver who is no longer safe to driver is often not recognized until it is too late.
Reuters, 100 Year-Old Motorists Backs Into Children Outside In Los Angeles School, August 30, 2012.
Wikipedia, Old Age And Driving, Last Updated May 3, 2012.