Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mandatory Testing for Elder Drivers: Ageism or Safety?

My last post was inspired about one of the many stereotypes that surround the elderly population and this post turns to another subject that many might consider a form of ageism but many others might consider it a simple safety issue. With the baby boom generation about to completely transition into what is considered the elderly population I believe that a great deal of focus must be placed on the precautions that must be taken to keep all drivers safe on the roads. Living in Florida, a haven for retirees, I believe it is crucial that some mandatory testing be implemented for drivers reaching the status of elderly.

My mother just turned 69 year old a couple of months ago and although she thinks she is still a "spring chicken" I notice differences in her driving abilities. She will never agree with me on this subject and the approach of this subject with her could cause a huge disaccord between us, so thank goodness she isn't reading this. The truth of the matter is that although I don't consider her necessarily dangerous on the road I do believe that her driving abilities are not what they used to be, her reaction times are slow, she seems to take her eyes off of the road more often than not, and her use of the brakes is enough to cause whiplash sometimes. Now my mother's driving and her refusal to agree that she doesn't drive as well as she did when she was 20 years old is relevant to this subject because well the reality of the situation is she would never listen to me as her youngest daughter. She would have many choice words to tell me, tell me she's been driving longer than I've been alive and basically no matter how bad it was she would never ever relinquish her keys to me of all people. However, if Florida was to pass standardized testing that must be passed by her and all those 65+ then many children like myself would have the burden taken out of our hands and the roads would be safer. I think many children of the elderly would be appreciative to have this become a standardized and regular protocol of getting older. Just like following the doctor's orders for taking certain medical test yearly as you get older taking a yearly driving and vision test to renew your driver's license should be required. Just like passing a glucose tolerance test, if you pass you can carry on with life as you have for years, if you don't well then you have to take certain measures. Why should driving be any different?

Many will argue that this is a form of ageism and possibly It could be considered just that, unfortunately statistically it is proven that the elderly are at increased risk for accidents. As nation ages, elderly drivers present greater risks on the road, an article in USA Today quotes Paul Fischbeck from the Center for the Study and Improvement of Regulation at Carnegie Mellon saying that "You always hear about teenage (driver) risks being so incredibly high, but to me the amazing thing is there are two clusters you really have to focus on": teens and elderly drivers." That is a shocking statement considering that you are comparing drivers that have been on the road only for a short time to drivers that have been driving many times for decades. A reason for this is that "normal aging causes medical problems that affect driving. Reflexes, flexibility, visual acuity, memory and the ability to focus all decline with age. Medicines that treat various ailments also make it more difficult to focus and make snap decisions" (USA Today). I believe that this along with many negative statistics surrounding elderly drivers is enough reason to warrant elderly drivers to subjected to yearly mandatory testing.

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