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Elderly drivers say they'd ace mandatory tests, but what about everyone else?

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  June 16, 2009 05:03 PM

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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.

In a separate story today, the Globe outlined two other incidents this month:

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?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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15 comments so far...
  1. Our elderly need to be tested, For this woman who is 90 years old, it is a matter fo safety for everyone, including herself.

    She may be able to say I can pass any test, but the state should not just give a random driving test. It should be a calculated test that can grade defensive driving.

    I also think that people of all ages should be required to take a test like this. I am 34 now and would not be ashamed of having to take a test to see if I need to address something.

    Old people, time to take some personal responsibility

    Posted by Anonymous June 16, 09 06:14 PM
  1. "Besides, what's the percentage of 85-year-olds on the road versus the hormonal, lead-foot teenagers at American high schools everywhere?"

    What the heck does that question establish? If you were attempting to establish a level of risk then I suppose you could say that senior citizens as a group should be the most experienced drivers, and yet, are more than twice as likely to get in an accident traveling the same distance as the next worst driver's age bracket. From that knowledge, it would be fair to say it has everything to do with their age impacting their skill and the real fright would be to wonder just how poorly they would drive if they were as unexperienced as the next worst drivers.

    You aren't doing anyone a disservice to make sure that the statistically worst drivers have to refresh their credentials more often. It isn't unfair because anyone younger than them would hopefully live long enough to have to go through the exact same process.

    Posted by Tim June 16, 09 06:35 PM
  1. The writer is absolutely right. US drivers should be road tested (including time on the interstate) and given a written examination every 5 years starting at age 20. Then your insurance rate should be based on your actual driving skill plus your driving record, rather than credit reports and other unrelated criteria that the insurance companies are using now that MA has been 'de-regulated'.

    The state should be able to afford the cost of the additional testers through fees paid for the road test. This should also be used to replace the insurance surcharge system as a better gauge of our risk as a driver. It would be one thing if the surcharges were going to the state rather than the insurance companies, but they are not.

    Posted by Red June 16, 09 08:14 PM
  1. My dad is 87 and needs to be retested. I dont thing he'd mind, he would think it was a pain in the neck, but he'd do it. His driving is important to him - and hes starting to go over curbs, etc, so it could be time. On the other hand, my son is getting his permit and most of his friends are already driving - I see them flying down the road, no seatbelts and wonder about who gave them their neighbors daughter got hers and the cop w/her had the radio on - even she said it was ridiculous. Which brings me to my real peeve - stood in line yesterday for 1 hour and 10 minutes w/the son to get the permit w/his required ssn, birth cert and the guy says cant take this b/cert, its not original. All it says on the form is prove of birth, no place does it say ORIGINAL WITH RAISED SEAL. Oh - and there was a guy in there, who had to be helped off the bench by his friend to get to the window. Now theres a scary thought - how quick can those legs move??

    date of birth. The registry sucks.

    the guy woldnt take it sine it wasnt original. No place to they say that

    Posted by Anonymous June 17, 09 05:17 AM
  1. Retesting of all drivers should occur at license renewal dates. This would increase public safety, can be a source of additional revenue to the states, and should lower insurance costs long term.

    Posted by Mike June 17, 09 06:07 AM
  1. Be careful what you wish for. Statistically, if the case can be made that people 85 and over have a greater incidence of hitting things, and to apply rules equitably you devise a standardized means to measure competency behind the wheel, think for a moment about the numbers. How many people will fall into this category? How many additional state employees will be required to deal with the implementation and administration of this expanded testing? How much more state bureaucracy will this engender? What will this cost?

    Of course, with the death of a 4 year old girl the cost argument is harder to make. But in that particular case the woman involved evidently has a history of dangerous driving - was her age really a significant factor or entirely coincidental? Perhaps her right to drive should have been revoked years ago.

    On the other hand, consider the development patterns (sprawl) we have had for too long in this country that force most of us to drive everywhere for every purpose and the rapidly increasing number of elderly people we have because of shifting demographics.

    If this is the right thing to do, let's do it, but not before we carefully consider the consequences.

    Posted by AlfaRomeo June 17, 09 09:56 AM
  1. Anonymous, Post # 4 - The registry states verbatim: "Original birth certificate issued in the U.S. or its territories or a copy certified by the agency that issued the original certificate or a copy certified by a Bureau of Vital Statistics or a state Board of Health within the United States (a hospital-issued certificate is not acceptable)"
    My pet peeve is people who blame everyone else for their own mistakes.
    And elderly drivers.

    Posted by ananonymous June 17, 09 11:42 AM
  1. Although it may not be a bad idea to have drivers tested after 85 to be sure they and other drivers are safe, my concern would be that the testing age would get younger as time went on.....60, 65...who knows...maybe everyone every time their license is renewed. Is that what we really want? Will the test be fair? Also if someone is unable to pass the test, how would they get to shopping, doctors and dental appointments? Various states have special services that pick up elderly people who don't or can't drive, but if this service has to be expanded to all who don't pass the test who will pay for that? Most of us do not live in the city where public transit is available. We need to be very careful and think this problem through before pushing the idea of testing only elderly drivers.

    Posted by anonymous June 17, 09 12:16 PM
  1. Test them, test everyone! If not to get bad drivers off the road, to continue to teach people that some of their driving actions are just plain wrong, lead to accidents and traffic jams. People innately revert back to old (bad) habits, therefore need to continuously practice to be better.
    See the golf swing.

    Posted by MR June 17, 09 12:35 PM
  1. Test the 17-25 year olds every year until they do reach 25 and I'll bet the majority would lose their license very quickly. They are so agressive on the road, practice no common couresty what so ever, and speed like there's no tomorrow. They have zero patience behind the wheel and the combo of all above is a formula for disaster. If your going to retest the elderly, you need to retest the newbie's too.......they can both be very dangerous drivers!

    Posted by Pam June 17, 09 12:36 PM
  1. Not to dismiss the tragedy that has occured to the people and families who have suffered but the statistics quoted look more alarming than the actual number of accidents because while it is stated that those"85 and over were involved in 14.5 fatal vehicle crashes per 100 million miles" and the next highest age bracket is "sixteen to 19-year-olds, at 7.5 crashes per 100 million miles" what isn't stated is that their few elderly driving fewer miles than 16 - 19 year olds or the 20 - 24 goups so that while the rate is high, but the younger age actually cause more death, injury, and property loss in total because there are more of them driving more miles.

    I am not saying that we should not pay attention to the quality of ALL of our drivers, but just saying that concentrating on one area may not produce the greatest reduction in actual reduction of loss.

    Posted by Marie June 17, 09 12:49 PM
  1. it may not be the driving that caused the accident , but a stroke, heart attack or other medical problem. a driving test will never pick this up. Insuramce statistics will show this data.

    Posted by pyrsq June 17, 09 03:02 PM
  1. I blame the gutless legislators for the death of the 4 year old. Do they think they are in danger of not getting reelected or something? They have to be a convicted pervert to lose their job in MA. There was an article in the paper a few weeks back and it asked the question "what would the legislators do if there were seven killed instead of seven injured?" The guess from the writer was that they would wait until seven are killed. One down and six to go. God bless that poor child and the next six that will give up their lives so that this becomes a reality. As an insurance agent I see lots of bad driving records and they are usually for the younger drivers. Let's take the hard way out and do two things to protect the public. Automatic testing at license renewal for everyone over the age of 65 (they get a 25% discount on their auto insurance by law in MA so this is the price they pay for the preferencial treatment that was designed to win their votes - it is nothing more than a bribe that has no merit in the "managed competition") and anyone who has received three moving violations or at fault accidents within a two year period will have to pass a test too. Charge enough to those people to pay for the over 65 tests. Good citizens win. Bad drivers lose no matter how old they are. Older drivers get to keep driving IF they are safe. Let's call this what it is. Fair. The truth will set you free.
    P.S. There is a system in place to whack new drivers that get a ticket. It is called the Junior Operator Law. A Senior Operator law would make sense too. A "bad" operator law would make ever more sense. How many more innocents will have to die before this happens?
    P.S.S. Mr Cullen of the Globe wrote the article I referred to earlier. Look it up!

    Posted by Bob Bettinson, Bettinson Insurance Agency June 17, 09 04:59 PM
  1. Test? Yes. Not just at age 85, yet not every 5 years, either. Keep it reasonable and simple. Minimize the load on the taxpayer by privatizing VOLUNTARY refresher courses and tests. For example:

    a. Require testing at ages 25, 50 and 75. Have this be conducted by the Registry of Motor Vehicles. That pretty much covers everyone: Gramps, Mom, and Junior.

    b. Allow every driver to EARN an insurance discount for taking - and passing - a refresher driver ed course. The cost would be paid by the driver. The discount would be a rebate of the course cost, so this would not cost the taxpayer. The driver should also get a credit to weigh against those minor infractions that would otherwise drive up insurance rates. No, not DUI. Just fender-benders, etc.

    Posted by OneMoreBicycle June 18, 09 12:02 PM
  1. You can't compare the young against the old. For the young, its inexperience in real-life situations. Get thee all to a skid-school before you get your license. Kids can learn the skills needed. (Peer pressure is another matter) For the elderly, it's a combination of loss of perception and/or of reflexes. Unfortunately. mother nature does not afford them the ability to recoup those skills. Once you lose your ability to cognitively assess in real-time, and then react, you are a safety hazard to both yourself and those around you when behind the wheel. Hate to say, you gotta' be annually tested for those motor skills (all kidding aside) after 65-70 years old.


    Posted by Lugnutz June 18, 09 03:50 PM

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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