There is (and I suppose always will be) an ongoing debate on the topic of when elderly drivers should stop driving.
And the statistics show that older drivers cause about 7% of all 2-car accidents whereas younger drivers cause 43% of all 2 car accidents. – Rand.org
With statistics like this – it’s easy to see how older drivers will fight the argument that not only should they continue driving, but because of their years of experience, they should not have to re-take a driving test.
But because I tend to focus on “safety” in all aspects of life – my personal opinion is that every driver should have to be retested more frequently than they currently are. Not only for their own safety, but for the safety of others.
In 2009, more than 58 percent of deaths in crashes involving drivers over age 65 were older drivers themselves and 12 percent were their passengers. Twenty-eight percent of these deaths were occupants of other vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians. By comparison, in the same year 40 percent of deaths in crashes involving at least one driver younger than age 21 were attributed to the younger drivers themselves and 23 percent were their passengers. Thirty-six percent were occupants of other vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians. – seniordriving.aaa.com
Should Older Drivers Be Retested?
In my honest opinion, “YES” – along with the rest of the driving population. Why make an exception?
It’s no secret that as we all get older our reflexes and senses will decline. It’s just a natural part of aging, unfortunately.
These issues coupled with other factors such as medical conditions and medications all play a part in making driving a more difficult task for older adults.
Every state within the USA has their own set of rules when it comes to renewing a drivers license but it seems that most states do begin increasing the frequency of those renewals starting around age 70.
The renewal process is also different from state to state. Most simply require a vision test or a note from your Optometrist or Opthamologist that your vision is good enough for driving.
Believe it or not, there are some states that do not require any proof of adequate vision, no matter how old you are! So, I would say to be extra careful driving in these states.
- Elderly driving laws by state in the USA
Most European countries require the driver to pass a medical examination in order to renew their drivers license. Again, many begin this requirement around the age of 70.
It’s important to note the results of a study comparing elderly drivers in Finland (where medical exams are required) and elderly drivers in Sweden (where medical exams are not required)…
A comparison of Finland and Sweden shows no apparent reduction in crashes as a result of the Swedish programme. However, Finland had a higher rate of fatalities among unprotected older road users than Sweden, arguably the result of an increase in the number of older pedestrians who had lost their driving licence. – ec.europa.eu
This and another study seem to show that retesting elderly drivers does not necessarily decrease the number of accidents and fatalities on the road – but with so few tests it would be prudent to see if these results could be replicated within other populations.
But, despite this information, my opinion is that it seems that getting a thorough driving test every year or two would make sense to not only assess a driver’s current skills but also to alert the driver of any limitations they may have and to simply get a refresher on the rules of the road.
I can use myself as an example.
I just took the Smart Driver Course which is an online driver safety course by the AARP. It’s a 6 hour course of videos and slides and of course testing of your knowledge of driving laws.
I have been driving for 46 years and I have to admit – there were a few rules that I had forgotten about (or maybe never learned). So it was a good refresher course.
Reasons Why Elderly Drivers Should Be Retested
Although many older adults do not want to believe that they are unsafe drivers – it’s also very difficult for them to give up their driver’s license.
My 98 year old mom-in-law had to renew her license last year in Florida and she was terrified that they were going to test her and take her license away. (She passed the visual test so her license was renewed)
But the truth of the matter is, that we all change as we grow older and more thorough testing of these issues would help to keep more people safe, whether they are the driver, the passenger or others on the road.
- Our bodies change as we grow older – it’s no secret that as we age, we will begin to lose some function. Things like, hearing, vision and reflexes will alter. Even our reasoning and judgement and how we process information will change. All of these affect our driving skills and can contribute to an accident.
- Medications – many older adults take medications, some take many. These can cause some side effects which can cause an elderly driver to react slower, to get confused, etc.
- Cognitive issues such as Alzheimer’s and dementia can severely impair someone’s ability to function safely behind the wheel of an automobile.
- Vision – many older drivers have trouble driving in the rain, at night or even during times when there is too much glare from the sun. All of these issues plus any problems reading road signs due to vision can all lead to an accident.
Reasons Why Elderly Drivers Should Not Be Retested
My personal opinion is that all drivers should be tested on a more frequent basis than is currently being performed not only because of physical and cognitive changes but also because many drivers become complacent (it’s just human nature).
So, being forced to re-acquaint ourselves with driving laws and skills can only help us all to be better drivers.
There truly is no logical reason (that I can think of) as to why an elderly driver should not be retested on a yearly basis.
The pros and cons of retesting elderly drivers is fairly cut and dry.
The pros include all the reasons that could contribute to making an older driver more dangerous on the road. Reasons such as changes in vision, hearing and reflexes. Side effects of medications as well as issues related to cognitive decline all play a part in making someone a more dangerous driver.
The cons are essentially none.
Retesting elderly drivers (and other age groups as well) is simply a reasonable expectation to keeping not only drivers and their passengers safe but also others on the road as well.