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[POLL] Should Older Drivers Face Additional Testing to Stay on the Road?

Crash involving 100-year-old driver put renewed focus on older drivers.

The crash involving a 100-year-old driver that injured school children in Los Angeles is a wake-up call for families to have a conversation with the aging drivers in their lives, according to the AAA.

While the nationally-publicized incident raises public concerns about senior drivers, AAA says it is a myth that seniors are among the nation’s most dangerous. Instead, AAA's Jake Nelson said just the opposite is true. 

“Recent data tells us that drivers in their 70s get into about the same number of crashes per mile driven as do drivers in their 30s,” said Nelson, who is AAA’s director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research.  “On average, drivers in their mid- to late-80s still have lower crash rates per mile driven than drivers in their early 20s, and roughly half the crash rates of teenagers — the nation’s riskiest drivers.”

But AAA notes that with 10,000 Americans a day turning 65, an increasing number of families are faced with the challenge of balancing safety and mobility for older loved ones.

“The driver’s daughter Ms. Jenkins was right that this crash was a ‘wake up call.’  We know from research that families don’t know where to turn for help or how to get the conversation started,” said Nelson. “AAA urges families to prepare now, before they get their own wake up call.”

The driver in Wednesday's crash, Preston Carter, said he lost control of his car — possibly because of brake failure with his Cadillac. Police said Carter had a valid license and neither drugs nor alcohol were a factor in the accident. Carter says he turns 101 on Sept. 5.

Carter's car went up on a sidewalk across from an elementary school, hitting 11 children and three adults. Carter said he was leaving a grocery store parking lot at the time of the accident.

Nelson said a national AAA survey shows 80 percent of senior drivers “self-police” their driving by voluntarily avoiding one or more higher-risk driving situations like driving at night or during rush-hour times of day. AAA has also found that age, on its own, is not what leads to a loss of driving skills. Instead, medical conditions that come with aging — which can affect drivers as early as in their 40s — are what commonly reduce driving ability.

To help older drivers and their families, AAA launched a website that provides free tools, resources, and expert guidance on issues related to older drivers and warning signs of a possible problem.

Here are two key warning signs cited by AAA related to older drivers:

  • A driver has been issued two or more traffic tickets or warnings in the past two years. Tickets can predict greatest risk for collision.
  • The driver has been involved in two or more collisions or “near-misses” in the past two years. Rear-end crashes, parking lot fender-benders and side collisions while turning across traffic rank as the most common mishaps for drivers with diminishing skills, depth perception or reaction time.

AAA's Senior Driving web site explains that these warning signs, however, don't always mean a driver should be taken off the road. Instead, the next steps include assessing the driver's abilities and possible impacts of medications. AAA says training programs are also available to help older drivers cope with physical changes so they can maintain their independence and mobility.

Throughout the United States, licensing policies for older adults vary. In New York, drivers must renew their driver’s licenses and pass a vision test or submit test results from a vision specialist every eight years.

Motorists may renew by mail if they submit a vision report, or they must apply in person. There are no additional requirements for senior drivers. In California, drivers 70 and older must renew their license in person. 

What do you think? Should New York have any additional requirements or testing for older drivers? Take the Patch Poll and tell us your thoughts on the issue in the comments section of this article.

John B September 02, 2012 at 01:26 PM
I agree. Good idea.
ingeborg oppenheimer September 02, 2012 at 01:42 PM
i am 80 years old and still driving - but in a much more limited manner than previously. for example, i no longer drive at night and i no longer take long drives to distant places on unfamiliar roads which require additional vigilance [besides attention to traffic]. i make changes in driving as i become aware of changes in my own powers [visual and other.] but can i be certain that i am fully aware of all relevant changes? no. i fully endorse and would welcome - a requirement of yearly re-testing for older people who wish to continue to drive.
Grace Otoole September 02, 2012 at 01:45 PM
I totally agree, Lillian. One guide to understanding flagrant defiance of traffic laws is the records of tickets for speeding, DUIs, DWIs and other dangerous driving behaviors. Studies show younger, not older drivers cause many more deaths and damages.
Gerry M September 02, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Forget about being uncomfortable about having the "TALK". How many are willing to interrupt their busy lives to shuttle their parents to all the activities they want to attend. Remember that: Little League, Boy/Girl Scouts, the mall, movies. The things Mom and Dad took the time to do for you!!!
John Patrick Schutz September 02, 2012 at 04:38 PM
This was an issue I was forced to face, not with my own relations, but when I was managing the Rivercrest, Ivanhoe and Salisbury Point Co-ops here in the Nyacks. At one time in Salisbury, I had two older drivers subject to seizure disorder, one older diabetic subject to blackouts, and four older drivers with mild to moderate dementia. THEY ALL WANTED TO CONTINUE DRIVING even after most of them had indeed had accidents, sometimes harming themselves and others (one barely escaped driving over the embankment and into the Hudson). No one in their families would even try to talk them out of limiting or ending their driving days. Personally, I found that terrifying. And the above statistics from the AAA are misleading (ask anyone in traffic control) since older drivers are in about the same number of high speed accidents as any other age group, HOWEVER they are on the roads in less numbers and they do tend to (wisely) avoid the major highways and high speeds where they can. The REALLY tragic numbers come when you look at the statistics for the number of pedestrians killed by motorists. The "car got out of control and jumped the sidewalk" type accident occurs much more frequently with older drivers. I believe the last time I got those statistics (when I was dealing with this issue professionally) showed that more than 25% of those accidents were caused by drivers over 70 (who arent even close to 25% of the driving population). Some older drivers do well, testing to make sure is OKAY
Barbara Cooper September 02, 2012 at 06:17 PM
I am surprised no one has mentioned the AARP driving course. It is very inexpensive and available in most local communities. PLUS, drivers receive a discount on their automobile insurance if they take the course every three years.
Wendy September 02, 2012 at 08:15 PM
I fully agree Scott! I was about to write my own personal comment but when I read yours, you basically said what I planned to say. I think re-testing (ROAD testing most importantly!) every 10 years is a perfect idea. I would also think that when a person hits about 80, perhaps it should increase to about every 5 years since health and mental awareness can decline fast in older ages. Three point turns are certainly not top on my list of important driving skills, but I do think that parallel parking is pretty important especially in congested towns & cities. When I think back to my driving test, it was really a joke. My "parallel parking" was between a single car and...nothing! Thankfully I had great parents who taught me well, how to stay aware, not to rush (even if you're late), and be courteous to other drivers. Call me silly, but I believe strongly in "car karma" ...you get back the same energy as you put out...even on the road! :-)
Tony September 03, 2012 at 04:04 AM
Regardless of age, the DOT should do what the auto companies have been doing for years: imitate the aviation industry. Cars have long taken technology from aviation. We should instill drivers with similar standards the FAA holds for pilots. (The US aviation has the best safety record in the world.) Sound outlandish? Imagine this: The FAA requires pilots to have periodic proficiency exams, a la the driver's test, to uphold their licenses. Can you imagine what safe drivers we would be as a general public if we knew that every 10 years or so we could lose our licenses if we didn't pass a driving test? Beyond that, imagine the jobs and business growth it would create for driving schools, instructors, and other specialists in the field. We would have the safest roads in the world. Ones you'd feel safe having both your teenagers and parents driving on.
lillian philbin September 03, 2012 at 12:49 PM
Someone bought up a very important issue - seniors are terrified that they will lose all independence if they can't drive. This area does not have adequate public transportation and cabs are quite expensive. Also walking to and waiting for buses is difficult, even if a senior is not deemed "handicapped", in which case I understand buses will come to the residence. Visiting family and friends in another town or state of course is impossible. Any thoughts on this?
Walter Jones September 06, 2012 at 02:39 PM
The NYS DMV should require a periodic road test for all drivers, especially those getting older to validate their privilege to drive. Perfect example was my dad. He had a bad stroke while left him paralyzed on his right side. He was not able to sit up, dress, walk etc. by himself, but he was given the right to renew his NYS drivers license via mail even after the stroke...... mind numbing policy of the DMV. When I refused to send in the renewal, he was very upset..... as we know, taking keys away from seniors is a removal of independence for them, but an absolute necessity when called for. Point is, our state and all others should have a mandatory driving test every so often. It should not be left up to family members to apply their discretion or lack there of.
babypotato September 06, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Requiring people to be tested based on age is likely to be considered discriminatory in the world we live in. Either the requirment for testing would have to be for all drivers, or be left up to the families to intervene. The police, a physician, or family member can submit a form for a "driver re-evaluation", but it explicitly states it may not be based on age. http://www.dmv.ny.gov/olderdriver/reeval.htm
ingeborg oppenheimer September 06, 2012 at 04:51 PM
babypotato, you make an excellent suggestion and of course you're absolutely right about making age a factor being discriminatory. but after the news i just heard about another driver going on the wrong side of the major deegan and causing accidents i would endorse also your thought that yearly testing should be mandated for all drivers. i have no idea what the age is of this particular driver, but it appears that most of these dangerous driving incidents are caused by young adults.
Walden Macnair September 06, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Re-testing the elderly would just be putting money and effort in the wrong place as statistically, those over 75 years of age account for only 3.3% of all vehicle accidents. The real hazard on the road on the drivers between 25 & 34 who account for almost 20% of the accidents and 18.3% of all fatal accidents and no one is suggesting they be retested.
DOAADI September 06, 2012 at 05:04 PM
There's more to it than just statistics, though. The reasons that younger drivers have accidents are poles apart from the reasons older drivers do. By all means, address both high-level problems - but be prepared to use completely different tools on the lower level issues in order to do so. Younger drivers tend to behave recklessly when they are still gaining life experience. However, the typical young person's (especially male) mentality cannot accept that they just might not be the perfect drivers they imagine themselves to be. The issue with elderly drivers in this case is simply down to being no longer capable of operating machinery competently for completely age-related health reasons.
Scott Petricig September 06, 2012 at 05:06 PM
ingeborg oppenheimer: The accident on the Deegan was an 18 year old in a stolen vehicle being pursued by police. So, I don't think testing would have helped in that case ;) Just a stupid kid doing a stupid thing and causing at least 7 other innocent people to be injured.
ingeborg oppenheimer September 06, 2012 at 05:12 PM
walter, this must have been a very difficult moment, for your family as well as your dad. i'm wondering whether, in the circumstrances you describe, a more paletable solution might be to renew the license [since drivers licenses are often accepted as proof of identity], but to find another way to prevent his driving, such as asking for his keys or selling his car. of course such a solution would depend upon the senior's mind being healthy enough to recognize the need for such a solution.
ingeborg oppenheimer September 06, 2012 at 05:34 PM
wow, scott, you are absolutely right! but this raises an entirely different issue: what kind of evaluation should be done before anybody is given the privilege of being behind the wheel of a car to start with? i have always felt - and your comment supports that feeling - that in addition to knowledge of the mechanics of driving, a candidate for a license should be tested for characteristics that impact on safe - or not-so-safe - driving. yes, i mean there should be psychological testing across the board, at all ages. such characteristics as impulsivity and impaired judgement are known red flags in the realm of unsafe driving. those found to have problematic personality profiles should be counseled and given the choice of obtaining help or giving up the idea of driving. i don't see this idea going any further than urgings for gun control, but if one thinks about it, a car can be as much a weapon as a gun. [thanks for giving me the opportunity to share this thought!]
Tom Robbins September 06, 2012 at 05:53 PM
testing should be required every year after a given age, no later than 80. Reform needs to happen at the opposite end of the spectrum. We need to raise the driving age and put further restrictions on young drivers, some examples only 1 non family passenger in a car till your 18, any infraction involving excessive speed or reckless driving results in an immediate 1 year suspension of your license, etc. Make driving such a privilege to young drivers that we create better behavior. If they know that even one infraction in the first 1-2 years of driving means no driving for a year....
Walden Macnair September 06, 2012 at 06:27 PM
None of these suggestions are even feasible and none of them will reduce accidents. You want to spend a couple of million dollars retesting 80 year olds? Go ahead but it will have zero impact on your accident rate. The truth is if you want to impact on the accident rate, the only way you'll do it is through increased enforcement of traffic laws, especially speeding, red lights, texting and cell phone usage while driving, then put alcohol meters in every car at the point of sale to prevent drunk driving. Then maybe you see a reduction
Tony September 06, 2012 at 06:41 PM
All the comments about testing based on age lend more credence to my point, above. Test periodically, every decade or so, from the time you get your license. Just like the FAA does with pilots. If you fail, you have a chance to redeem yourself. But if you are unable or unfit, you will no longer be a hazard to others, no matter what your age.
DOAADI September 06, 2012 at 07:17 PM
But it still misses the point that with advancing years, the slide from acceptable to non-acceptable health factors can happen literally overnight. Obviously, testing every day is ridiculously impractical, but testing every 10 years when someone reaches 60, 70, or 80 is no better than whatever system is in force now, because it wouldn't catch age-related health slips.
Elizabeth R Baecher September 06, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Focusing on the elderly is not only discriminatory, it fails to account for drunks and other impaired and irresponsible people on the road. If safety is the goal, let's focus on known liabilities first, and not on one age group. The aged are already targeted for being stupid, innocent, trusting and etc. Chances are that those who are, were already that way years before -- so now where should the testing start?
DOAADI September 06, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Road safety is only the top level issue. It can be compromised by all manner of lower level issues. It is these lower level ones which have to be dealt with separately. Age-related health issues have nothing to do with drunkeness or reckless behaviour. Drunkeness must be dealt with through laws and enforcement of those laws. Ditto with recklessness. Laws already exist, of course. It is the lack of age-related health laws which is the fundamental problem - it allows people who can't see, can't think straight, and therefore who can't drive to tell the authorities that they can, and so retain their driver's licence. You may as well issue licences at birth to every citizen without the need for a test if you bring rights and independence into it. A driver's licence should be a privilege, not a right.
DOAADI September 06, 2012 at 11:13 PM
This American petition might be of interest to some: http://forcechange.com/31427/require-stricter-driving-tests-for-senior-citizens/
Wendy Kelly September 06, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Absolutely yes !!!It should be across the board for every age group. I hate driving and continously e-mail Chief T in Peekskill to the bad behavior on the road in the wee hours of 6am. My Mom 88.5 years ( Yup we return to the .5 at some age) old in rehab as we speak fell and needed surgery for hip fracture and her concern is she will have to wait a few week to drive. OMG she had to tell her father no more driving in his late 70's and to this day she believes he held a grouge against her as he lost his independance. I will tell her at the appropriate time no more car MOM no reason for innocent people to get hurt including herself. Mom I love you dearly! You are my shining star. Love you always Wendy
Francis T McVetty September 13, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Do you really think that those tests are really "driving tests" ? Has anyone taken a "driving test" recently? It is a joke. How can a 5-10 minute test actually evaluate a drivers ability? It is a money making scheme by the state government. The testing of older drivers would only add more money to the depleted coffers. It is important that the families of these " older" drivers take note. Does the vehicle have unexplained damages? Go for a drive once in a while when you visit and see how they are doing. Most parents wil listen to their children when it comes to driving the car. You may have more of a problem with you dad because it is a man thing, that driving a car. Don't give the government MORE power to limit our freedoms. They already have enough control of our lives.
Elizabeth R Baecher September 13, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Yes to Wendy's suggestion that if there is testing, it should apply to everyone. There are those with excellent faculties in their 80s and others whose abilities start to wane years earlier.. As the population continues to age, more older people are in fine shape and should not have their independence arbitrarily removed.
Walden Macnair September 13, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Testing 80 year olds or for that matter retesting anyone will be a massive waste of money. How much more in taxes are you willing to pay for something that will have no results? One Million, two, ten, one hundred? How will we pay for it, through higher real estate taxes, higher gasoline taxes or maybe a drivers license should be $1,000.00 to renew. Take a reality check folks. It ain't the 80 year olds in the fatal accidents, it's the 25 year olds.
Elizabeth R Baecher September 13, 2012 at 09:47 PM
You pay for your drivers license, so each individual should be charged to cover test costs. I don't know statistics, but years ago I would see crowds of middle aged persons getting of the train while gulping little cups of gin - then getting into their cars to drive home in possibly a besotted state. These menaces were more like corporation execs, not 25 year olds. While the drinking cars may have vanished, rest assured the drunks have not.
Patricia September 13, 2012 at 09:58 PM
When a police officer makes a DWI arrest it takes him off the road for 3 to 5 hours. If a job with 2 to 4 police officers on the road makes an arrest that can take half of patrol out of service for some time. Drinking and driving is across the board with all ages, men and women.

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