A cartoon by the Globe's Dan Wasserman illustrates the tension behind this issue, to say the least.
The war between elderly drivers versus the rest of us has gained some unwelcome traction this week after an 89-year-old woman killed a 4-year-old crossing the street in Stoughton with her 2003 Toyota Camry last weekend.
Ilse Horn was charged with motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation and could face up to 2 1/2 years in prison, the Globe reported today.
Earlier this month, a 93-year-old man drove his car into the entrance of a Wal-Mart in Danvers, injuring six people, after he mistook the gas pedal for the brake. The next day, seven people were injured in Plymouth after a car driven by a 73-year-old woman jumped a curb and ran into a crowd gathered at a war memorial. It was the woman's third accident since turning 70.
Now lawmakers, including Governor Deval Patrick, are being prodded to sign a bill requiring drivers 85 and up to pass driving tests every five years. But while senior groups and organizations like the AARP oppose age-based testing, many elderly people at a senior center in Milton agreed with the tougher laws.
"Just because I'm 90 years old doesn't mean I can't drive," said Natalie Fultz. "I'll pass whatever test they give me."
State Senator Brian A. Joyce is leading the initiative and said yesterday that the "age of 85 is statistically significant, because studies show there is a precipitous drop in driving skills at that age."
A 2001-2002 study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety cited that drivers 85 and over were involved in 14.5 fatal vehicle crashes per 100 million miles. The next killer age bracket? Sixteen to 19-year-olds, at 7.5 crashes per 100 million miles.
In truth, pointing fingers at older people — besides bringing up the unwanted issue of age discrimination — runs short of the real problem: fair, challenging, and consistent testing across all ages. In countries like Germany, licenses regularly cost well over $1,000, and that includes extensive schooling that doesn't come close to the optional drivers' ed programs in the US. Americans, in my opinion, need to stop looking at driving as a God-given Constitutional right. Such a serious skill fraught with incredibly high risks is worth ponying up big bucks and time to learn and practice correctly.
Besides, what's the percentage of 85-year-olds on the road versus the hormonal, lead-foot teenagers at American high schools everywhere?
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