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Health and Public Policy: Older Auto Drivers Safer Than You Think

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Let’s talk about older automobile drivers. Maybe it’s your Mom or Dad or Uncle Sam that shows signs of driving too slowly, running into things or having other difficulties handling a car.

What do you do and what are your responsibilities?

I’ve faced this dilemma three or four times already and here’s what experts say.Researchers at the Rand Institute for Social Justice found during a recent study a few interesting facts.

–Young drivers between 15 and 24 years old are three times as likely to cause car accidents as senior citizens.

–People over the age of 65 make up 15 percent of drivers but were responsible for only 7 percent of the 330,000 fatal two-car crashes in the past 25 years.

–Drivers up to age 24 represented 13 percent of drivers, but caused 43 percent of the accidents across the United States, they said.

–Younger drivers tend to use more dangerous and risky conduct behind the wheel.  Overloaded cars playing loud music, eating meals while driving, even playing with the radio and CD player are much more likely factors in the accidents of young drivers.

–Senior drivers were only 16 percent more likely to cause an accident than drivers between the ages of 25 and 64.

Ishani Ganguli of Reuters spoke to study participant David Loughan who said “(There is) pretty widespread public concern about the older drivers. (And) over the past 20 years, there been a strong trend to adopt more stringent licensing policies. The fact that older drivers are not that much riskier suggests that these policies are certainly questionable.”

And what about your nightmare that Mom might plow into a group of school children? The facts are that because of the frailty of the older persons body the person most likely to die or suffer serious injury is the senior driver. Cases of senior plowing their cars into groups, though well publicized, are very rare.

My friend Dave is 78 and he decided to drive less, stop driving at night altogether and stay out of uncomfortable situations like driving on the freeway. A lot of older drivers take actions like this voluntarily on their own or with a little encouragement.

But what happens when you see someone apparently unable to handle driving safely any more? Schedule a medical appointment. Experts say a family member should not risk alienating a loved one bt wrestling the keys away from them.  An eye exam or actual driving test might be in order too.

Have your M.D. give the loved one a reaction and driving capability test. If the older driver fails, the doctor should tell them they are no longer safe to drive.

But the findings suggested that senior citizens are choosing to drive less frequently or to stop altogether. Those who still get behind the wheel often play it safe — driving in daylight and avoiding dangerous conditions, Loughran said.

“On the one hand, requiring older drivers to take road tests, for example, would certainly identify some older drivers whose driving abilities have deteriorated unacceptably,” the researchers wrote.

Said David Loughran, “But our results suggest that there are relatively few older drivers who need to be legally prohibited from driving, so these drivers pose a relatively small risk to traffic safety overall.”

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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