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It’s been a year since a fatal crash in the Boston suburb of Stoughton spurred a renewed effort to pass legislation to require testing for older drivers. The four year old victim, Diya Patel, was struck in a pedestrian crosswalk by an 89 year old driver.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “Massachusetts’ law prohibits discrimination by reason of age with regard to licensing”. The controversy over the law, which was sent to the state’s house and senate conference committee in March, centers around the provision to require drivers to be tested for physical and cognitive ability beginning at age 75.
Only 18 states regulate their oldest drivers more stringently than younger drivers, ranging from not allowing them to renew on-line or through the mail to requiring vision and reaction tests. And then there’s Tennessee which offers reduced fees for those drivers 60 and older and licenses that don’t expire to drivers over 65 according to the IIHS.
The results of a 2007 General Accountability Office study indicated that senior drivers are very good at self regulating their driving. The number of fatal crashes that those 65 and older have been involved in per 100,000 of licensed drivers is actually the lowest of any group studied by age. However, when you consider their performance per 100 million miles travelled and study those 75 and older, their rate of fatal crash involvement is higher any other age group including 16-24 year olds.
The GAO report forebodes the future by stating that, “Older drivers will be increasingly exposed to crash risks because older adults are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, and future generations of older drivers are expected to drive more miles per year.” The census bureau projects that those 65 and over will rise from 35.1 million in 2000 to 86.7 million in 2050.
Although some states have involved doctors in the decision about who should drive by requiring them to report unfit drivers, the first line of screening should be by those closest to the driver--family and neighbors. Over the years I have witnessed the unfortunate decline of driving skills of many drivers and these are my observations.
The first signs are damage to the sides of the vehicle possibly due to the loss of peripheral vision or lateral judgment. Look for scrapes in the fenders or paint marks from garage doors. Blowing out tires or damaging wheels at highway off ramps is a common occurrence. An often used explanation is that someone ran them off the road. Check out the way your loved one negotiates parking the car. If they are reluctant to back up and always park in the front most parking spot at the super market, it may be an early sign that their driving skills are waning.
The GAO report pointed out that the older the driver the higher the chance that if he were involved in a fatal crash it would be at an intersection. So any involvement in a crash at an intersection, no matter how minor, may serve as an early warning sign that your driver may be at risk. Discussing the loss of driving privileges is a minefield that no one wishes to navigate, but there is too much at stake to take a detour around the issue.