A Few More Minutes, A Few Less Casualties

Mike - Palatine, Illinois
Entered on May 20, 2008
Age Group: Under 18

I am a very laid-back person who is not riled up very easily.  However, one thing that does greatly upset me is when people have their lives taken away or endure life-altering injuries as a result of something that should not have been happening in the first place.  The problem is that many people show a sharp decline in their ability to safely operate a car once they hit the age of 65.  These drivers can be even more dangerous as under-aged and even drunk drivers, both of which are illegal.  For example, in 2003, an 86 year-old man named Russell Weller accidentally stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brakes and sent his car down the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market in California.  Weller’s confusion apparently lasted for several blocks as he injured fifty and killed ten more.  The man’s records showed that he had not taken a license test since he initially got his license in the 1930s.  By requiring something as simple as an annual driver’s test, taking just 45 minutes a year, these lives could have been saved, along with the countless others who have and will become the victims of incompetent elderly drivers.I strongly believe that once drivers become 65 years of age, they should have a mandatory annual license test consisting of a vision test and a road test if they wish to keep their licenses. Driving is such an everyday skill that few appreciate its complex demands.  A study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluded that although accounting for less than 10 percent of the population and driving far less frequently than all other age groups, drivers 65 and older account for 12 percent of all traffic fatalities, 12 percent of all vehicle occupant fatalities, and a whopping 17 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.  These numbers could be drastically cut if an annual driving test was required by the state.  Specific laws for elderly drivers are already in 21 states, but this number is far too small and those states which do have the laws are far less strict than they should be.  Lissa Kapust of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital’s Drivewise program states, “Of the clients who come in that are over 65 years if age, I would say probably 60 percent to 70 percent of them no longer can drive.”  Many factors help to account for this decline in driving ability.  The simple fact is that the human body changes as one gets older.  The vast majority of senior citizens undergo a significant decline in all cognitive skills.  For starters, perception, which can be used to see what a light is, judgment, and executing the chosen action, such as stepping on the gas pedal, have all been found to decrease as one ages.  Vision and awareness both get progressively worse in the elderly years, and these are two of the most important aspects in being able to drive safely.  Likewise, elders tend to rely more on glasses, which can limit one’s peripheral vision as well as make for a harder time in changing focus between objects.  Reaction time becomes noticeably worse for senior citizens, so they might not be able to hit the breaks or swerve to avoid an accident as well as they should be able to.  Medical conditions can play a key role in one’s ability to drive safely, along with their ability to recover after getting in an accident.   Overall, after looking at all of the statistics and facts, I saw that this is not a problem that will go away without any outside assistance.  To the contrary, the number of senior citizens in the United States is estimated to once again double in the year 2025.  The first step taken to sift competent elderly drivers from incompetent ones should be to make seniors take an annual driving test once they become 65 years of age.  If made into a law, the downside would not even begin to cover the vast upside.  This law would keep numerous dangerous drivers off the roads and result in less crashes and fatalities, thus creating a much safer driving environment.  Every time I hear about another life taken by a driver who should not even have their driver’s license, I wonder how many more innocent lives will have to be taken until people notice that something needs to be changed.