One of modern society's great dilemmas is how to regulate and license two groups of drivers who tend to create most of the problems on the road. The very young lack the experience and frequently the judgment; the very old often lack the reflexes, sight, and/or hearing so necessary to operate a motor vehicle safely.
We've all seen them: Gray-haired motorists tooling along in their well-kept vehicles, barely peeking over the steering wheel. They travel at or below the speed limit, but they also may change lanes without warning or turn the wrong way down a one-way street.
People are living longer and driving longer, and the statistics are beginning to reflect it.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report shows that since 1995, the number of deaths on the road among people under 65 has decreased 3 percent. But the bad news is that over the same period, the number of traffic deaths among senior citizens has increased 15 percent. In 2000 alone, 8,141 senior citizens were killed.
Given the rapidly aging population, the outlook doesn't get any better. NHTSA predicts that within 30 years, 23,000 seniors will die every year in traffic accidents. By 2030, the oldest baby boomers will be 84, and many who shouldn't be behind the wheel will still be at risk, as will those around them.
It's tough to convince seniors to give up driving. Understandably, many feel that their vehicle is their only remaining link to the world and that they are helpless without it.
Even so, several states are pondering whether to require doctors to report elderly patients who have serious health issues that affect their ability to drive a car. But that puts an unfair burden on physicians, and arbitrarily pulling older folks' licenses based solely on age would violate civil liberties.
Maybe a better way is an annual driving and written test for drivers past a certain age. Call it tough love, but older drivers who can't demonstrate certain basic driving skills need to understand the consequences of pushing their luck.
We already restrict neophyte drivers who are just learning. We need to be more demanding of those who've been driving 60 years or longer.