Elderly Driving: A Peril to Society The older you are the wiser you will have become is a classic saying that adorns the elderly with experience and wisdom. One might recall endless stories beginning with “back in my day,” but what about the stories in present-day? Countless senior citizens have provided some interesting news stories for reporters in recent years; major accidents, which many have only seen in movies, have become real life due to elderly driving. In 2003, George Weller, an 89-year old man sped into a local farmers market.
Ten people died and seventy were left injured. (CBS News). USA Today reported about a Elizabeth Grimes, a 90-year old woman, who was seen backing out of her driveway, across the lawn, and onto the adjacent curb. Only six blocks away she ran through a red light and slammed into a “17 year old high school junior who was driving to school to take an algebra test. Five days later she died. ( Davis and DeBarros). ” Westport news describes further accidents: A 72-year-old New Canaan man faced vehicular manslaughter charges for allegedly striking and killing a motorcyclist last fall.
In Darien, an 89-year-old man turned himself in after allegedly hitting and severely injuring 15-year-old pedestrian on Hoyt Street. He claimed he didn’t know he hit anything until he saw the accident reported in the paper the next day. I have always wondered as sitting in the passenger seat, “Why is he or she still on the road? ” as my father would pass the below speed limit driver and then informed me there were no precautions for unsuitable elderly drivers in most states. Just a couple days ago my friends and I had an encounter with an elderly driver.
It was a Friday night, only 7 P. M. but the roads were slammed in the high traffic area of Chesapeake we were crossing. As we crossed an intersection, the Chrysler 300 to the left of us was signaling to come over–although it is illegal to cross at an intersection. My friend, being the cautionary driver she is, slowed down to accommodate the Chrysler. Seconds upon seconds went by and the driver still had not made the cross-over. Finally, it began to merge in front of us at a gradual, lingering speed but then it stops with absolutely no cars in front of him. Why? Who knows.
It completes it merge and seconds later it is back on the left side where it began. This embodies the frustration that drivers face when behind an unfit elderly driver. This issue is becoming more prevalent now that the oldest baby boomers are turning sixty-five this year (Kennedy). By 2030, the Census Bureau projects that there will be 9. 6 million people eight-five and older which is 73 percent more than today (Davis and Debarro). A Carnigie Mellon University study has reported that drivers 85 and older are four time as likely to get in accidents than teens(VOA News).
Although there is no certain age, many people agree there is a time when drivers need to hand over their keys. What defines this time? AARP, the American Association of retired Persons, has a list of signs that give meaning to the right time: frequent close calls, dents and scrapes on the car, trouble judging gaps in traffic at intersections, other drivers honking at you, getting lost, difficult seeing the sides of the road when looking straight, slower response time, getting distracted easily, difficulty turning head to back up and change lanes, and traffic tickets.
Some persons believe that having a retest for senior citizens is age discrimination. However, I find that there is science, studies, stories, and statistics that justify why elderly citizens should be retested for the good of the nation. In addition, prohibiting the independence and freedom of citizens makes it hard for some to come to terms with revoking their parents and grandparent licenses. Just as murderers have some of their freedoms taken away for the greater good, driving has to be regulated so that more senior citizens do not become predator to vehicular manslaughter.
Biannual behind the wheel testing and annual eye exams for persons sixty-five and above should be persistent across the United States in response to cognitive deterioration and physical disabilities that develop with age. As we age, “the ability to switch between tasks and keep track of what you’re doing worsens — looking around, taking in complex information within a limited time frame,” Dr. Anstey, psychologist at Australian National University, said. These limitations are cause by cognitive decline (Span).
There are various theories of why cognitive decline happens: inflammation of the brain (Betcher) and lifestyle factors (Hughes). Cognitive decline is responsible for being more distracted by irrelevant information, troubles with making inferences, working memory (how much your memory can hold at one time), and understanding text (McPherson). All of which are important to being a safe driver. A slowdown in response time; a loss of clarity in vision and hearing; a loss of muscle strength and flexibility; and drowsiness due to medications (Westport news) are physical limitations that older persons experience.
When reflexes slow down, it is harder for anyone to respond quickly enough to avoid collisions; as previous statistics show elderly need reflexes more than anyway to avoid the mass accidents they cause. Drowsiness can happen to anyone but many elderly take multiple medications. Muscle movement is needed to turn the wheel, change gears, check blind spots, and move the pedal. Julia Layton of Discovery Fit and Health notes vision deterioration is “one of the most drastic physical changes that occur with old age. ” As we age our eyes become sensitive to light; light reception is how we see.
Additionally, refocusing takes longer so checking the speedometer than looking at the road becomes less simple. Peripheral vision, depth perception, and color perception are also problematic when trying to distinguish a green from a yellow light, staying inside the lines, and how close a vehicle is to you. (Layton) Seventy-five percent of people over seventy-five have some sort of hearing loss. Granted, deaf people can hear but they get greatly accustomed to it and are fully aware of it. Older persons are not as aware of it and still depend upon their hearing when frankly it is not that dependable.
Hearing comes in handy with ambulance sirens, trains, light rails, and bystanders(Layton). In a university study, the effects of hearing impairment and distractibility found that “people with moderate to severe hearing impairment had significantly poorer driving performance in the presence of distracters than those with normal or mild hearing impairment (Chaparro et al. ). ” So therefore, “Older adults with poor hearing have greater difficulty with driving in the presence of distracters than older adults with good hearing (Chaparro et al. ). ” Of course being elderly does not mean that one can not drive as Dr.
Elizabeth Duncan points out: Ms. Nedinne Parker, aged, 104, still live independently and drives once a week to her volunteer job at a local hospital. She is a remarkably healthy, active, and witty women who is still able to see, think, and move well enough to drive safely… She also realizes her limitations and that others may be skeptical of her driving skills… She has limited her driving to only on local, familiar roads and only during daylight hours. I also had a chance to interview my grandfather’s significant other on his driving abilities at age eighty-five.
She said he has none of the signs that I have previously mentioned and that he too only drives to local places like the grocery store. A future course of action for this soon to be increasing issue in a perfect nation is a follows. Yearly eye exams of every citizen regardless of age because vision is the most important factor in driving. Biannual behind the wheel tests for persons over sixty five to be able to actually see the performance of the individual just as one has to do initially obtain a license. Some restriction, like the some that are imposed on teen and first year drivers may be of some help.
Having rules against driving at night or during high traffic times and against having more than one person in the car are examples of the laws I would consider beneficial. Also, I do agree with Candrive (the Canadian Driving Research Initiative for Vehicular Safety in the Elderly) in improving the ability for some senior citizens who barely failed the test but physical disabilities and cognitive deterioration are hard to work around. In summation, the issue of whether or not older citizens should be retested to ensure driving ability or fitness needs to be brought to the forefront, just as drunk driving is.
Elderly citizens have cognitive and physical disabilities that can prevent them from driving safely. The major causes for the accidents in result of unsafe senior citizens are slamming on the accelerator instead of the brakes, failing to yield the right of way, and misjudging how far away an oncoming vehicle is coming. Manslaughter is not okay whether under the influence or mentally and physically incapable; lives need to be saved from dangers on the road either way. Retesting can improve this issue and save the lives of many.