The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

September 16, 2012

Testing older drivers | To ensure that everyone is safe on roads

It’s not an easy topic to broach, but our society needs to take a hard look at whether it is time to implement mandatory testing for older drivers.

As much as we respect older drivers who, through years of experience, may have safe driving records, we also recognize that physical abilities begin to decline over time.

Among the problems that AAA.com says can make driving more dangerous for older drivers:

-- Limited vision.

-- Loss of hearing.

-- Decreases in reaction time.

-- Medical conditions.

-- Changes to mind and cognition.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation says that more than 1.5 million licensed drivers in the commonwealth are age 65 or older – meaning senior citizens make up about 17 percent of the state’s driving population.

As it now stands, the state selects 1,900 drivers ages 45 or older for retesting six months prior to the date of their driver’s license renewal. Those drivers must undergo vision and physical examinations.

We understand that the ability to drive is a key component to help seniors retain their mobility and independence. But we also know that the risk to older drivers is real, and those who are not safe behind the wheel don’t just endanger themselves but others around them.

Consider these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control Prevention on its website:

-- Per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase starting at age 75 and increase notably after age 80.

-- An average of 500 older adults are injured in crashes every day.

-- More than 15 older adults are killed on average each day.

There are plenty of senior citizens who are still quite capable, both mentally and physically, to drive on a regular basis. Testing older drivers when they renew their license would only confirm this fact, leading to more peace of mind for older drivers and their loved ones. And the testing would be even more important for those who no longer possess the skills necessary to operate a potentially deadly piece of equipment.

Such a driver might not realize that his or her skills have deteriorated to the point where getting behind the wheel is putting lives in danger.

We urge our lawmakers to implement changes to the renewal process to ensure that our older drivers and those around them are as safe as can be.

Web poll

Do you think Pennsylvania should require older drivers to automatically be tested after a certain age?

-- All drivers should be retested periodically.

-- Yes, after age 65.

-- Yes, after age 70.

-- Yes, after age 75.

-- Yes, but I'm not sure when.

-- No, they have earned the right to drive.

Vote now at www.tribdem.com

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