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How old is too old to Drive

Too old has always been a relative phrase. Some people are old at 65 while others still seem youthful at 85 or 90. Driving ability is based more on physical and mental conditions than on age. While many times age can be a factor in accidents, driving skills are the only real measurement that matters. So, drawing an arbitrary line at a certain age and prohibiting driving beyond that point is not a reasonable way to solve the risk factor of older drivers. Other measurements must be used to determine the fitness of a person to drive. These measurements need to be objective and verifiable. If they aren’t, some will be excluded who should not be driving, and others will be included whose driving skills are more than adequate.

Unlike in the case of young drivers where experience can make exponential differences in driving skill, older adults have more than enough experience. So, many declines can be readily offset by this experience unless the declines are severe. Health conditions, seeing and hearing abilities, and bodily strength all figure into one’s capacity to drive and control a car. Certain health risks need to be evaluated to determine if they have a high probability of causing a catastrophic loss of ability to control an automobile. An extremely weak or damaged heart might be one consideration here.

I once met a senior friend in a grocery store who told me from ten feet away that she could recognize me by my voice, but she couldn’t see me well enough to identify me by sight. She then left the store and drove herself home. This woman was not ancient, but had obviously reached a point in her declining vision where she should no longer have be driving. Fortunately, within about two weeks, her family persuaded her to sell her car and give up driving before a tragedy happened.

We already test for visual declines in most if not all states. Checks on the ability to recognize obvious road signs is tested, and this test also can detect some of the more severe mental declines. People are eliminated from driving based on these two test, which are aged biased against seniors and with a reasonable cause. Doctors monitor physical and mental abilities and sometimes report people who have declined beyond safe driving levels. Many unsafe drivers are found, but not all are discovered through these means.

I hate to see anyone lose a personal freedom like driving. However, with the aging U. S. population, it is time to address this issue more seriously and aggressively than we now do. Some states have moved in this area, but most have not. Perhaps having to pass a road test and/or a serious written test at 70 and every 5 to 10 years from there on would not be such a bad thing. Seniors who are still at high physical and mental capacity would have no problem. This would be a much more objective means to reach this need than the subjective opinions of sympathetic doctors and family members.

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