According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were approximately 36 million licensed drivers ages 65 and older in 2012 — a 34% increase from 1999. Underlying that trend is the fact that the 2010 Census showed that the over 65 population grew faster than the total population in the United States. That group is the largest in terms of size and percent of the population. PEOPLE ARE LIVING LONGER!
One of the concerns of those of us who are reaching advanced age is the loss of physical vitality, including reflexes, eyesight, and mental acuity. These are things that can impact our driving abilities. And that does not go unnoticed by the younger generations. It is common to hear concerns expressed that older drivers should be tested and have their licenses taken away if they can’t pass. But there must, and should be, a very sensitive balance between the need for individual independence and safety on the roads.
The CDC reports that fatal crash rates start increasing for drivers aged 70-74, and reach their peak among drivers age 85 and older. But this is not a result of these drivers being involved in more crashes! It is because of an increased susceptibility to injury. In other words, a crash that does not result in injury or death to a younger driver may likely injure or kill an older one.
States like Virginia are recognizing that older drivers are not by definition a greater hazard on the road. Indeed, the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles states that young, inexperienced drivers continue to have the worst driving records. Still, the DMV has implemented standards and programs designed to help seniors remain safe while driving.
If a senior driver commits a traffic infraction, he may be required to complete a mature operator safety course, and may avoid conviction of the infraction for completing the course. Effective January 1 of this year the state lowered the age at which drivers must present in person for license renewal from 80 to 75. This requirement is to ensure adequate vision before renewing a license.
While these requirements may seem objectionable to some, seniors favor such measures according to a spokesman for the American Automobile Association. According to the spokesman: “[R]emarkably, support for these measures was greatest among drivers 75 and older.”
This sentiment by seniors may be bolstered by the DMV’s “Granddriver” program that lays all the issues facing senior drivers right out on the table. The program’s literature discusses the challenges of getting older as they relate to driving and offers resources for seniors to test their driving skills, match their skills to a particular vehicle, and to get tips on compensating for the natural aging process. The program also reaches out to medical professionals and caregivers who treat seniors to educate them on the interplay between aging and driving.
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