Testing older drivers discriminatory? A few readers think so.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 2001

TOM: Here are a few more responses to our column on testing older drivers for a decline in skills. There was a certain percentage of our respondents who were not opposed to testing but were opposed to singling out older drivers.

Dear Tom & RAY:

I read your column discussing the senior-driver issue, and I agree wholeheartedly with both of you. Our daughter was hit head-on by a 92-year-old man driving the wrong way on I-65. He was killed, and she suffered many injuries. Because of his actions, she endured head injuries, a broken jaw and a broken optical bone. Plus, from the hips down, she is now an advertisement for the medical community dealing in metal reconstructive technology. She has no memory of the accident or of several months afterward, either. Fortunately, she has recovered, but her life and ours have been changed drastically. I contacted my state representative and the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles with my concerns and was told there was nothing that could be done -- in other words, they as much as told me that I was being discriminatory; my thought is that they were afraid of voter backlash. The population is aging, and what will the state/federal governments do when we are faced with the terrific number of persons driving who should not be? They considered my comments to be discriminatory, when in fact I was not specifically targeting the elderly driver; I really wanted the state of Indiana to test the entire driving population -- regardless of age. There are simulators available for any variety of testing that would be a great help in solving this emerging problem. Simulators can be programmed to test the driving skill of drivers of any age, but perhaps more importantly, the responses of these drivers -- without having to test them on the road itself. Wouldn't this alone be safer and not discriminatory? The state of Indiana talks about the cost of such a program, but how much is their inattention to accidents, deaths and injuries caused by aging baby boomers going to cost the state in terms of lost income, etc? The aging driving population is a problem for all of us, and we must begin to do something constructive about it now; we cannot afford to wait. Changing the way in which we test ALL drivers, young and old, is a step in the right direction. -- Sondra

Dear Tom and Ray:

I resent the implication that people over the age of 65 have lost the ability to drive well. Since most of us have been driving for well over 40 years, we have more skills and know-how than a younger person, especially a teen-ager. Also, people my age -- and some older -- still have the strength to turn a steering wheel and the quick responses to hit the brake when necessary. Ray, I agree with you about retesting, but not by age. Test everyone, maybe every 5 or 10 years. By age would be discriminating. -- Beth

RAY: Ideally, testing everybody more often would be great. But if it's not practical, or not practical at first, why not start with those who are most likely to have problems on the road?

TOM: We have already defined teen-agers as people whose judgment might not have developed yet or whose skills are not yet learned. So why not add older drivers next, who are most likely to experience a deterioration in reflexes and physical abilities? Their problems are different from teen-agers' but, nonetheless, are very real.

RAY: We're not opposed to testing everybody -- because, no doubt, there are lousy middle-aged drivers, too. Take my brother, for instance. Please!

TOM: But if we have to start somewhere, let's start where the problems are most likely to be found. And that's with those drivers in their 70s, 80s and 90s who really shouldn't be driving anymore.

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