Elderly drivers: live free or die
Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 16:02
Late last summer, a 100-year-old man backed out of a parking lot near an elementary school in Los Angeles, plowing into 11 people, including nine children. Fortunately, nobody was killed, but such recklessness highlights the challenge that aging drivers and their families face in deciding when it’s time to get off the road. But are instances like those enough to convince lawmakers in Concord to require elderly drivers to take road tests before renewing their driver’s licenses?
New Hampshire is the only state without a law requiring seat belts for adults or drivers to be insured. With these liberalities about driver safety in mind, requiring a road test for elderly drivers is considered by some unorthodox in the “live free or die” state.
The House Transportation Committee heard testimony on a bill Tuesday that would require testing for older drivers. Bette Champney told the committee that her husband, Gary Champney, and another man were killed by an 87-year-old driver while on their motorcycles.
“He would be here today if it wasn’t for that elderly driver who overreached and overdrove straight into Gary,” Champney said.
This crash and others have sparked a renewed debate over whether older drivers should be road-tested based solely on their age. Representative Tara Sad of the Committee stated that she thinks age 85 might be a good starting point for the testing.
As stated by UNH occupational therapy professor Sajay Arthanat, “aging takes a toll on skills across the board that are critical to driving: attention, judgment and response time.” He further stated, “I think it’s important that they get tested before their renewal, for the safety of the public. It’s not an outright denial of their rights, it’s just them going through a screening for the public safety. I do believe that older people need to be independent and sustain their access to community resources.”
Due to the aging population of baby boomers, the number of Americans 65 and older will jump from 39 million in 2010 to 69 million in 2030, according to Census projections. With this increase in elderly drivers, officials are looking for solutions to predicted dangers.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the rate of deaths involving drivers 75 to 84 is about three per million miles driven – on par with teen drivers. After the age of 75, the risk of driver fatality increases sharply due to poor judgment in making left-hand turns, drifting within the traffic lane and slowed responses to unexpected or rapidly-changing situations. After age 85, vehicular fatality rates jump to nearly four times that of teens and nine times higher than that of drivers ages 25 to 69.