Should Elderly Driver Be Tested in the United States Term Paper

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Drivers Test/Elderly

Due to the population change in the United States, or what is called the "graying of America," the next couple of decades will significantly increase the number of individuals over the age of 65 who are driving on the country's roadways. Because a variety of physical and psychological conditions either become worse or arise after the age of 50, especially as the years progress, and because older individuals are involved with a greater number of motor vehicle accidents, it would seem practical that proactive measures be taken at this time. Special examinations should be developed and administered prior to re-licensing that test for the conditions that are most prevalent with aging so that the safety of older individuals and others on the road will be protected.

The United States is entering the era of "The Graying of America." Increased life expectancy is creating record numbers of people aged 65 and older. In less than a century, the country has added 25 years to the life span. Those aged 65 and older represented 13% of the population in 2000 and will be about 21% of the population in 2030. The group expected to grow most rapidly in the next 30 years is the one aged 85 years and older. As this shift occurs, the U.S. can expect myriad of changes from family structure to health care to cultural values.

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Because of the variance in demographics, more drivers on the roadways will be over 65, as well. In the next 20 years the number of elderly drivers (persons 70 & over) is predicted to triple in the United States. What impact will this have on accident statistics?

Term Paper on Should Elderly Driver Be Tested in the United States Assignment

A study was initiated to forecast the number of older drivers and passengers who may be fatally injured in traffic crashes in future years (Bedard, 2001, 751). The research was based on data from the United States. Fatality Analysis Reporting System that covered the time period from 1975 to 1998. The results showed that about 35,000 drivers and passengers died in traffic crashes each year from 1975 to 1998. Older adults, or those 65 and up, accounted for 10% of all fatalities in 1975, 17% in 1998, and a projected 27% by 2015, the same proportion predicted for drivers and passengers younger than the age of 30. On the basis of these projections, the number of fatally injured women and men above the age of 65 will increase respectively by 373% and 271% between 1975 and 2015. The researchers thus concluded if present trends continue, the number of fatalities among older drivers and passengers and those aged younger than 30 may be equivalent early in this century. These projections call for further research into conditions that may lead to crashes involving older drivers and for the development and implementation of initiatives to curb traffic-related fatalities among older adults

Across the country, states are thus assessing the need for drivers tests for elderly. Pennsylvania law requires a doctor to report any condition that impairs a patient's ability to drive. Of 21,000 reports on questionable drivers filed with Pennsylvania officials in 2004, nearly 6,000 resulted in license suspensions, with 181 of the suspensions because of neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease. In Canada, drivers over 80 are required to take medical examinations before renewing driver's licenses in British Columbia. Ontario drivers over 80 may have to take a road test every two years. Florida, the state with the largest percentage of seniors, issues licenses for six years, but drivers over 79 must pass a vision test. Illinois and New Hampshire require drivers 75 and older to take a road test. The American Association of Retired People (AARP) recommends a refresher driving course for individuals over the age of 50.

Given the health changes that people undergo as they become older, such decisions as these are not wrong. It would be unwise to wait until the year 2010 and then react to the situation, rather than be proactive today.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Ten years ago, it became very clear that the future held both great promise and extreme mobility challenges for the aging population. Today the evidence for both possibilities appears even more clear. By almost any measure, in the coming decades the elderly will have longer, happier, fulfilling lives than their peers today and definitely than the elderly of just a few decades ago. However, a 1996 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study surveyed the implications of global aging and commented:

The basic news is good. Increased longevity, good health and independence are key values in their own right. They are also a reflection of the underlying strength of social and economic issues... [but] there will be difficult transitional problems before that good news is fully realized. (5-6).

One of these challenges will be automobile driving by an aging population. Older people in 2005 have much more active, eventful, and mobile lives. Mobility, defined principally as the trip rate by all forms of transportation, includes walking and biking as well as driving and using the various other moving vehicles. An important part of their active lives is efficient, convenient, and flexible access to a variety of desired services and facilities. In the future when aging individuals lose the ability or resources to engage in such activities, the drop in their well-being may be substantial and could have profound physical and psychological impact. A direct source of decline in the elderly in coming decades will be decreasing mobility, or the inability to drive or to find satisfactory travel alternatives to gain needed services and facilities. No evidence exists that older people's desire to travel will decline simultaneously with their ability to drive or to find other alternatives. Many elderly may eventually find themselves cut off from the very aspects of life that made their early retirement years so much better than those of older people only a few decades ago.

The number of Americans over age 65 has greatly exceeded the growth rate of the population as a whole, but this amount of older individuals goes hand-in-hand with a significant shift in the population structure. According to the U.S. Census, Population Profile of the United States. (1998), the American elderly now comprise a major proportion of the entire population. There are two major causes for the growth in both the number and percentage of older people. People are living longer due to increased income, better education, and enhanced healthcare. The Central Intelligence Agency Fact Book indicates that in 1998, the average American life expectancy was just over age 76. When America first became a nation, it stood less than half of that. Even at the start of this century, the average U.S. life expectancy was below 50 years (U.S. Census, Statistical Brief). Older Americans are better educated and housed than similar older Americans from just a few decades ago. They are more likely to be well-off economically and less likely to be poor. Until 1974, for example, the poverty rate of the elderly was greater than that of children. In the U.S., the median income for elderly people more than doubled between 1957 and 1992, while the poverty rate was cut in half (Hobbs, 1996, 64). At the same time, chronic disability and institutionalization rates among the aging have continued to drop, and death rates from heart disease, the major killer of the elderly, have fallen substantially since 1960 (ibid). Another reason for older populations is that individuals of childbearing age are having fewer children. Fertility rates have continued to fall for the last 40 years.

Since the 1950s, Americans have become increasingly dependent on the automobile as more people moved into the suburbs, federal highways began dissecting the country and national and city transportation systems started declining. Older people have also become more dependent on the private car. Automobiles have given them more personal choices, a greater range of possible activities, and independence. According to the report Transportation in an Aging Society (2004, 18), driver licensing among the elderly is very high and continuing to grow. Licensing rates increased for all individuals over age 50 from 1992 to 1997 but was faster among women than men, especially among those over age 70. This trend does not include people suddenly deciding to become drivers but instead younger, active adults aging into their retirement years. As a result, in 1997 almost 92% of all men and 70% of all women over 60 years old had a driver license. Licensing is nearly universal among those becoming 65 years of age in the next 15 years. By 2012, almost every American man and close to 9 out of 10 women will enter their retirement years as drivers. Presently, there are about 18.5 million licensed drivers aged 71 and over.

While the socio-economic and health conditions and mobility of this aging population is better than ever before, it does not mean that there are no problematic areas.

As one ages, specific functions related to driving skills may be impaired such… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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