Elderly Driving

Introduction

As individuals get progressively older their mental capacities, response times, and physical abilities tend to deteriorate yet despite such limitations people aged 60 and above still continue to drive on America’s roads and highways (Cobb, 411).

Based on data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a total of 3,981 individuals age 70 and above died as a direct result of motor vehicle crashes in 2009, this number does not include other drivers and pedestrians affected by the subsequent loss of vehicular control and as such the total number of fatalities as a direct result of such incidences could potentially be double the current number given by the IIHS.

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Various studies examining the impact of older drivers on America’s roads today state that as America’s baby boomer generation gets progressively older the amount of individuals aged 70 above on America’s roads has escalated dramatically (Reisman, 356 – 357).

Unfortunately, as shown by data from the IIHS, this has resulted in an actual increase in the number of car accidents in which the elderly have been involved.

What must be understood is that driving a motor vehicle requires a certain degree of spatial awareness, responsiveness and the ability to accurately and succinctly gauge the speed and distance of the car that is being driven relative to other vehicles on the road (Reisman, 356 – 357) (Fox and Fama, 31).

When an individual lacks the ability to express such aspects of regular driving behavior the potential for accidents to occur increases exponentially as the overall lack of spatial awareness, speed and distance results in a driver often misinterpreting the relative distance of their vehicle from either another car, obstacle or exit point which usually results in an accident occurring.

Studies examining elderly drivers all unanimously conclude that physical deterioration in the form of vision problems, depleted mental acuity, and a lack of physical responsiveness result in a reduced capacity to drive properly (Ratner, 23).

They go on further to state that since physical deterioration becomes progressive over the time the same can be said for their ability to drive (McKinnell, 67). In other words as individuals get older their ability to mentally and physically embody the necessary behaviors needed to drive safely diminish up to a point that not only do they become a danger to the themselves but to other drivers and pedestrians as well (Ratner, 23).

It must be noted though that surveys examining drivers aged 55 and above show that when the respondents were questioned as to their ability to drive nearly all of them stated that they drove “rather well” or had “no problems” on the road when driving (McLeod et al., 613 – 618).

When comparing the survey results to accumulated scientific data as well as statistics on the number of vehicular accidents involving the elderly it can be seen that the respondents were unaware of the potential danger they represented both to themselves and other motorists due to an apparent inability to discern that their progressive physical and mental deterioration has had a detrimental effect on their ability to drive (McLeod et al., 613 – 618).

Further examination of the research results also showed that when asked whether they planned to stop driving in the immediate future nearly all the respondents answered that they had no plans to and that they would continue driving for several more years (McLeod et al., 613 – 618).

Based on these responses as well as data from the IIHS and other studies examining elderly drivers and their impact on America’s roads it can be seen that the attitudes as well as the physical and mental deterioration of elderly drivers presents a distinct problem due to their potentially adverse impact on both themselves and other drivers. As such it can be stated that, the government needs to limit the maximum age for driving because elderly drivers have caused many deaths and severe injuries each year.

Similarity in Being Drunk and Being Old

Driving under the influence of alcohol is considered a punishable offense in many states within the U.S. due to the potential dangers an inebriated driver possess to other drivers on the road.

What must be understood though is that the reason why this action is considered illegal is due to the reduced physical and mental capacity of the driver, such a condition has been proven through literally millions of cases within the past several decades that a driver operating a motor vehicle under a diminished capacity due to the presence of alcohol in his system is more liable to cause accidents on the road and as such should be prevented.

Taking the concept of “diminished capacity” into consideration elderly drivers should also be restricted from being allowed to drive since they also possess a diminished capacity similar to people that are drunk.

While there are certain differences such as an elderly individual having a deteriorated physical and mental condition as a direct result of natural causes while an inebriated driver has a diminished capacity as a direct result of the consumption of alcoholic beverages the fact remains that both individuals display behaviors which place them at risk of not only harming themselves but other drivers as well.

For example, one of the main reasons why drunk driving is considered a punishable offense is due to the diminished mental capacity that a drunk driver is under which results in their inability to effectively drive their vehicle.

Studies examining drunk driving show that the diminished mental capacity takes the form of being unable to gauge distance and speed, the inability to formulate fast enough decisions while on the road and finally the propensity to overcompensate resulting in wider turns and faster speeds.

While such symptoms are not present in drivers 55 and below studies examining drivers 70 and above show an almost similar degree of deteriorated mental capacity in the elderly comparable to drunk drivers which makes them just as likely to cause the same type of accidents as the average drunk driver (Branaghan and Gray, 580 – 581).

Another factor that should be taken into consideration is the concept of perception and how drunk and elderly drivers tend to perceive things almost similarly. Studies examining the effect of alcohol on the average person’s ability to perceive objects reveal that a person’s ability to accurately distinguish numbers, colors, warning signs and other similar forms of road safety measures tends to decrease the more alcohol an individual consumes.

This is another reason why driving under the influence of alcohol is considered a punishable offense since the inability to distinguish proper road safety signs makes the driver of the car more liable to cause accidents despite the precautions put into effect in order to prevent them. In the case of the elderly, physical deterioration once more comes into play however in this case the focus of attention is on their vision.

What must be understood is the fact that as a person gets older their vision tends to deteriorate over time, while there are measures available to correct this such as glasses or corrective surgery in some cases elderly individuals suffering from eye deficiencies such as cataracts, glaucoma or macular degeneration are unable to get the necessary corrective surgery (Branaghan and Gray, 580 – 587).

This results in elderly drivers having to contend with either blurred or hazy vision, a distinct reduction in their peripheral vision and even loss of their central portion of vision which can not only cause them to misinterpret road signs but could lead them into not realizing they are approaching and obstacle, car or pedestrian (Friedman et al., 1846). Such cases are similar to what happens to drunk drivers and as such is further evidence of the necessity to place elderly drivers in the same category of “diminished capacity” as drunk drivers.

The last piece of evidence showing the similarity between drunk and elderly drivers is once more connected to the concept of diminished physical and mental capacity but in this case it involves the ability to take in information and react immediately.

In most situations when driving motorists need to take into account other cars in their lane as well as cars from the front and the rear. By taking into account their relative distance, speed and their proximity to the car a driver is able to make decisions within seconds as to how to properly handle their car given the situation at hand.

In the case of drunk drivers their ability to discern information from their general environment and take subsequent action as need be is heavily impaired by the fact that both their physical and mental reaction times are greatly slowed down by the presence of alcohol. This makes them more likely to be slower in taking into account outside information which delays their ability to physically respond to the situation.

The same can be said of elderly drivers wherein their diminished mental capacity combined with their frail physical capabilities makes them less likely to be able to sufficiently take in information from their surroundings when driving and take appropriate actions (Marszalek et al., 1097 – 1103).

In both cases this results in delayed actions in stopping, turning or going resulting in accidents occurring as a direct result. Based on this information it can be seen that when comparing both drunk and elderly drivers, both operate under a state of diminished capacity that not only endangers their own safety but that of others as well. As such, elderly drivers should be categorized under the same category as drunk drivers and be prevented from operating motor vehicles due to the potential threat to public safety that they represent.

Physical Capability

This paper has so far argued that the physical and mental deterioration of elderly drivers places makes them a danger to themselves and others, what hasn’t been mentioned yet is the fact that elderly drivers are more likely to die from car accidents as compared to the average driver.

What must be understood is the fact that traffic accidents can occur at any given time due to a plethora of causes, most of them not limited to the elderly. In such cases though when accidents do occur the elderly are just as likely to be involved in an accident as any other driver however their ability to actually survive such accidents is questionable at best.

Once a person reaches the age of 60 and above a notable decrease in the amount of calcium in their bones is seen as well as muscle lethargy, decreased physical stamina as well as an overall level of deteriorated health (Brock et al., 1284). While this is a natural process for all individuals what must be understood is the fact that people with deteriorated levels of health are not as likely to survive a car accident as compared to an individual who is in the prime of their life (Ehrenfeld, 62).

An examination of data relating to the ability to survive car accidents has shown that as an individual increases in age the less likely they are able to survive a major car accident (Brock et al., 1284). Even minor accidents can cause severe damage on most elderly individuals due to their relatively fragile physical states.

While it may be true that barring an individual from driving on the basis of their fragility has little legal basis, the fact remains that when taking into consideration the inherent physical fragility of elderly drivers aged 70 and up and combining it with the fact that they are more likely to enter into traffic accidents due to their diminished physical and mental capacities, as established by this paper, then it becomes a question of whether the government needs to act on the basis of protecting the elderly from themselves since clearly they are likely to kill themselves (along with others) if they are allowed to continue driving at advanced ages (Brock et al., 1284) (Mitchell and Suen, 17).

Opinion of the Elderly

While this paper has been quick to point out the negative implications of elderly driving an examination of the responses of the elderly towards the concept of limiting the age limit on driving has brought about several compelling arguments.

The first argument presented is the fact that since most elderly individuals live with their spouse or are alone if they are prevented from driving this limits them towards the use of public transportation which is arduous at best which may result in increased stress, a worrisome factor given their advanced ages (USA Today, n.d). It must also be noted that in most cases within the U.S. the elderly do not live with their children and as such have come to rely on their own ability to get things done.

Studies examining the responses of various elderly respondents have shown that most are reluctant to take on the use of caregivers and as such continue to try to remain active. By preventing the elderly from driving this may in turn place either undue financial stress as a direct result of them needing to hire a caregiver since their children would not be around to drive them as they please (Modern Medicine, 5).

Other arguments presented state their inherent legal right as citizens to be able to drive so long as they prove they are capable of doing so. In such cases it has been shown that the elderly can be retrained to drive at advanced ages in order to take into account their physical and mental deficiencies and act accordingly in order to become better drivers.

Based on these following arguments it can be seen that there are alternative methods to outright banning the elderly from driving. On the other hand all the arguments presented neglect to take into account the fact that the elderly account for a large percentage of all automobile based accidents within the U.S. with the number gradually rising by 5 percent each year as a direct result of aging sectors in the U.S. population (Tips, 9).

Conclusion

Despite the counterarguments presented it can clearly be seen that allowing the elderly to drive poses too much of a risk to both themselves and the general public to allow the practice to continue. What must be taken into account is the fact that their continued physical and mental deteriorated coupled with the necessities of being a proficient driver simply do not mesh.

As such, the government should take measures in setting up an appropriate age limit that allows elderly people to drive. By doing so, not only does the government prevent the elderly from potentially harming themselves but also other drivers and pedestrians.

Works Cited

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David S. Friedman, et al. “Driving Cessation and Driving Limitation in Glaucoma: The Salisbury Eye Evaluation Project.” Ophthalmology 116.10 (2009): 1846-1853. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 4 Aug. 2011.

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Reisman, Anna. “Surrendering The Keys: A Doctor Tries To Get An Impaired Elderly Patient To Stop Driving.” Health Affairs 30.2 (2011): 356-359. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 4 Aug. 2011.

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