Elderly Drivers a Need for Change Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2126 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 7  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Transportation

¶ … Elderly drivers in America [...] proposal for change supported by research. The proposal is in support of the implementation of required standardized testing of people reaching the age of 65 that would enable them to retain their driver's license while assuring their continued safety on the nation's roads and highways. The proposal will also recommend a course of action for regulation of elderly drivers, and provide a proposed solution to the problem, while urging Americans to get involved now, before more elderly drivers take to the nation's highways and byways.

This proposal attempts to find a course of action and ultimate solution to the growing problem of elderly drivers on America's streets and highways. As the baby boomer population ages, more and more aged drivers will be taking to the highways in everything from SUVs and motor homes to motorcycles and hybrid vehicles. In fact, in the next 20 years, many experts believe the number of elderly drivers (aged 70 and over) will triple from the number today. Statistics also show that while currently elderly drivers make up only 9% of the population, they account for 14% of all traffic deaths and 17% of pedestrian deaths ("Older Drivers"). Since the elderly population was 24 million in 1997, and that is expected to more than triple by 2025, it is clear that the elderly driver is a growing problem in America, and that new and different methods of regulating elderly drivers must be established to keep the nation's roads safer and fatalities to a minimumDownload full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Elderly Drivers a Need for Change Assignment

Elderly drivers pose a threat to other drivers in several ways. Many studies indicate that "Older drivers are involved in a disproportionate number of crashes associated with intersections and other complex traffic situations, failure to yield, inattention, road signs, left turns, and oncoming traffic and are more often found to be at fault in crashes" (Wood). Other studies have indicated older drivers have slower reaction times, impaired vision, and a higher instance of eye diseases that can create problems with their perception and vision. Scientist Wood continues, "Visual impairment becomes significantly more prevalent with increasing age. The normal process of aging results in yellowing and cloudiness of the crystalline lens, a decrease in pupil size, and alterations in the integrity of the macular pigment and neural pathways" (Wood). Thus, many vision studies have concluded that elderly drivers should undergo more consistent vision testing when applying for license renewals.

Another threat on the highways is the elderly driver's dependence on their automobile for transportation and independence. Many elderly drivers depend on driving as their main source of transportation and independent living, and they are afraid to give up their last link to a "normal" way of life - even as they age. One senior citizen noted, "Next to losing my husband, losing that car was the most important thing'" (Rogers et al.). Because public transportation is often non-existent or not readily available in many areas, one reason seniors are afraid to give up their cars is the lack of other alternatives for them to take care of their daily needs.

While elderly drivers pose many threats on America's highways, they also are inherently better at some driving tasks than younger drivers, who hold the next largest percentage of safety issues and fatalities while driving. Elderly drivers usually obey speed limits and other rules of the road, and usually do not multi-task when they drive (i.e. eating, changing CDs, talking, and driving all at the same time). In addition, very few elderly drivers drive drunk and are much more likely to wear their seatbelts ("Putting the Brakes on" 8). Thus, elderly drivers do not pose as high threats in some areas of road safety, but are clearly threats in other areas.

Many elderly drivers know their limitations, and so compensate for them, such as only driving on city streets rather than highways and expressways, and only driving during daylight hours, when their vision is better. Author Rogers and her associates note in their study, "The most typical response was to avoid freeways and to avoid driving at night, especially in unfamiliar areas" (Rogers et al.). Thus, many elderly drivers understand they are simply not as quick or agile as they once were, and modify their activities accordingly. This sort of "self-monitoring" works for many individuals, but many others do not recognize or admit the signs of aging in themselves, and so ignore the changes and limitations age imposes on their driving.

Perhaps the most well-known case of an elderly driver ignoring the signs of aging is George Weller, the infamous 86-year-old man who killed ten people in a Farmer's Market in Santa Monica, California. On July 13, 2003, Weller lost control of his car and plowed through the closed-off street, killing ten and injuring countless others. Weller told police officers he made a wrong turn onto the closed street, and then mistakenly stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake (Sexton A03). Police filed charges against Weller but found he had a clean driving record with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) prior to the accident. As a result of Weller's accident, California and many other states are looking at tougher regulation and testing of America's older drivers.

What is a recommended course of action for regulating elderly drivers? Many states already have increased testing in place for their elderly drivers. For example, reporter Steve Sexton writes, "California requires drivers older than 70 to renew their licenses in person in a DMV office every five years. Those younger than 70 are required to enter the DMV once every 15 years. They may be required to take a driving test only at the request of a family member, a doctor, a police officer or the DMV" (Sexton A03). Many other states are implementing stricter rules regarding the elderly, including forcing them to apply for renewal in person, and mandatory on-the-road driving tests after a certain age. Another study notes, "Some states have accelerated renewals for people over a certain age to renew their licenses more often. Others require vision tests. Some prohibit renewal by mail for drivers over 70. Illinois and New Hampshire require drivers over 75 to pass a road test" ("Putting the Brakes on" 8). After the Santa Monica incident, several more states have formed task forces to look into the problem of elderly drivers, including Florida, with one of the highest elderly populations in the nation.

With the problem of elderly drivers ever increasing, a recommended course of action must be developed now, before the problem grows even worse. While driving regulation has always been an individual state issue, it seems to be time for the Federal Government to become involved to set a standard for driving across the nation. It does not make sense that one state has much harsher restrictions than another, and that an elderly driver may face relatively easy license renewal in one state and much more difficulty in another. Setting a national standard for testing, regulation, and requirements for licensing of elderly drivers would end the need for so many states to study the issue, and would let all elderly drivers (and their families) know what to expect when they attempt to renew their licenses. In addition, the Federal Government has more funds and experts available to study and make recommendations for a united course of action, and they could include national health care professionals, who are better able to assess the needs and limitations of elderly drivers. Elderly drivers need to know they do have options when they test and renew their licenses, but they also should know that all testing and regulation is uniform throughout the nation.

Several solutions are available to handle the problem of elderly drivers. Clearly, research shows the most important and relevant solution is developing a comprehensive testing system that addresses the unique problems of elderly drivers, including their vision, impaired motor skills, and general frailty as they grow older. This should be a national system that is equitable for the elderly, but still ensures that those whose skills have deteriorated to a certain point should no longer legally drive. One solution that seems obvious is to get experts from the health care community involved. One study explains, similar committee in Oregon came to the conclusion that cognitive or functional impairments are a better way to assess driving ability than age alone. That prompted the legislature to create a work group of health care professionals to help the motor vehicle department identify impairments that are likely to affect the ability to operate a motor vehicle safely ("Putting the Brakes on" 8).

Thus, developing a national solution will implement it all at once, save states from having to prepare their own plans, and involve a larger variety of professionals who can assess both the needs of elderly drivers, and the testing that will most effectively identify weaknesses and limitations in elderly drivers. Developing a national system would surely be costly, but in the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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