I was driving down Route 202, a two-lane highway that turns into I-84 and stretches all the way from Delaware to Maine. Even though 202 cuts through the small town of New Milford, Conn., people tend to go about 50 to 60 m.p.h. as they merge onto I-84. That morning, I was in the left lane when I saw a minivan leaving from a parking lot on the right. He turned into the right lane and stayed there, so I didn’t feel that I had to slow since he wasn’t trying to come in, only to slam on the brakes seconds later as he swerved into the left.
After my heart slowed, I passed the driver because I wanted to get a good look at what kind of moron had cut me off. I saw an older man, maybe in his 80s, peering over the top of the steering wheel. Geez, I thought, counting my blessings for not wrecking my leased car, that guy is way too old to be driving.
When a person reaches their elder years, their peripheral vision fades, reflexes slow, and light and depth perception begins to deteriorate. Thanks to the Baby Boomer generation, the roads will soon be filled with impaired drivers.
The AOA suggests that a senior’s change in eyesight may cause difficulty in adapting to glare from headlights. Their side vision may also fade, preventing them from passing safely. These types of problems could be caused by age-related eye diseases such as AMD, cataracts, glaucoma, chronic dry eye, or having low vision even with the help of glasses.
In 2011, 5,560 people older than 65 died and 214,000 were injured in car crashes, which was a 3% spike in fatalities and a 16% spike in injuries from the previous year, according to NHTSA. Those 220,000 senior citizens helped make up 21% of all licensed drivers.
50% of the middle-aged population and 70% of people in their 70s suffer from arthritis, crippling inflammation of the joints, which makes turning, flexing, and twisting painful – all necessary to operate a car. Uncoincidentally, crash rates begin to increase around ages 70 to 74, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Visual, cognitive and physical skills that affect driving ability decline with increasing age, says AAA. Judgment among them may become impaired, making them less able to react at higher speeds and make turns in front of oncoming traffic.
NHTSA is tired of these accidents. In hopes to help reduce the risk of incident and ensure safety with older drivers, the association released a handbook called “Older Driver Highway Safety Program Guidelines” with recommendations on how to continue to be safe driver even in one’s older years. Unfortunately, though appreciated, printing out some guidelines will not “ensure the safety” of all senior drivers.
Illinois has already done it: drivers over 75 have to retake their driver’s test whenever they renew their licenses. While other states require vision tests and remedial courses for senior citizens (only if other citizens have complained about their driving), it is not enough.
Filing a complaint against a specific driver means that you have to a) get into an accident with them and take down their information or b) jot down their license plate number while you’re busy driving your own car. Not very practical.
With 36 million drivers over 65 in the U.S., it is fair to ask that we play it safe. Each state should require senior citizens to retake their driver’s test when they wish to renew their license after the age of 65.
If the first time a person takes a driver’s test when they are 16 years old and passes, then it should not be an issue the second time around decades later. The laws haven’t changed, but their driving abilities might have, so I would recommend these easy steps to renew a senior’s license at the DMV:
1. A senior citizen should brush up on traffic laws and general safety to pass a simple quiz
2. Said person should pass a vision exam, with glasses if necessary
3. Said person should list and make sure their medications do not interfere with operating vehicles
4. Said person should get in the car with a certified instructor to retake driver’s exam
Every day, driving is a risk. That risk can be lowered if drivers are educated and aware of their surroundings. We just need to make sure that we put the right people out there.