Thursday, October 11, 2007

10-11-07: Old Time Drivin'

I was driving down the road today and eventually ended up behind an elderly driver. It was at a traffic light, and the driver took a few seconds to see that the light had turned, then almost forgot to use their turn signal, and didn't leave much room for drivers behind them to get by. Not the worst driver in the world, but hardly safe.

After passing that driver, I began to recall a discussion I have had before: should elderly drivers be required to take a driving test to stay on the road? When I was a senior in high school, one of my classmates gave a stirring speech on the subject during our "Senior Speakouts." Their point was a little more severe, that all 70+ year-olds should be taken off the road. I don't quite agree with that sentiment, though. There are drivers in that age category that are far better than drivers my age or other younger generations. There's also no sense in taking all drivers off the road just because a good number of them are dangerous.

What I think should happen is this: once a driver reaches age 70, have them take a quick road test to see if they're able to drive safely enough not to cause a huge car wreck every day. No, you can't test for everything, but it's at least something. Some drivers are just terrible.

There are three obvious issues about this (I like to play my own devil's advocate):

Issue 1: It isn't fair to require some one to take a driver's test just because of age.
Sure it is. As people get older, their motor skills suffer. If this is such a universally accepted fact, along with the idea that most insurance companies require physical exams at certain ages, why not have them take a test? If they're good drivers, then they should be fine. The other issue is that most tests the elderly go through are to prevent harm to them, but a bad driver could injury many others. The risks involved are greater overall.

Issue 2: Who would pay for this?
The drivers would, initially, but see Issue 3 why this would make sense.

Issue 3: What about the AARP? They're a powerful group, and have strong lobbyists.
True, which is why making this a state law might not be the best thing to do. Instead, states could offer strong incentives to the elderly drivers who take and pass tests. Perhaps they make the costs tax deductible, or they encourage insurance companies to offer reduced rates. It would save both entities money, as many elderly drivers are involved in automobile accidents (or cause them). What might happen (and the AARP would have some influence in this, though) is that insurance companies will raise rates for elderly drivers, so they'll feel the pinch (with their limited and fixed income) and would want to save the money. This approach is more of a "soft" requirement, as no law would be made, but that's what I like so much about it. Let the market do the work.

In short, offering either tax or insurance premium incentives would have a significant effect on the elderly, since they often have limited income. Insurance companies know how much money they spend on elderly-caused accidents, so they'd see the profits in offering incentives to safe drivers (which they already do anyway). The AARP might fight back against raised insurance rates, but that's business, and they'd have some trouble fighting that. By letting the market direct the elderly to take the test, they'd basically require them to act in order to save money. The states could run a series of emotion-laden ads to hit the hearts of the elderly and their families, saying it would save lives (and money). It could work. You could even give them a second chance to take the test if they don't pass the first time, which might get some thinking "Maybe I am not such a safe driver…" and they don't go for the renewal.

On a side note, I know elderly drivers who are very, very safe. I know it's not fair for them to be required to take a test, but if they pass, look at the money they'd save! And, it'd be sort of a badge of honor.

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