The rate of fatal car crashes has been constantly increasing among older drivers during the past 30 years, particularly among those over 85. Furthermore, the elderly are involved in more deadly collisions per mile driven than younger people, with the exception of teenagers. The aging of the population in the Western world is expected to be associated with a near doubling of the percentage of drivers above 65 in the following 25 years. Therefore, there is public concern, reflected in several press debates, about the future safety of public roads in relation to this matter.
So, should there be set an upper limit for the legal driving age? My personal option is: by no means!
First of all, this would be a most discriminating and undemocratic law, limiting a fundamental human right, that of free traveling, for a large category of population.
Second, older people may have difficulties in using public transportation; forbidding them to use their own cars might be a source of many significant life problems in this frail group, including depression.
Third, neurological, psychiatric, and visual troubles can surely be a source of driving errors, events, and fatalities, and such troubles are more often found in the elderly. Nevertheless, there are senior citizens with a perfectly satisfying health status and, on the other hand, significant mental or sight disturbances can also be found in younger ages. The problem is about detecting and treating such medical conditions in drivers, or preventing these from getting a license if necessary, but it is not about setting an artificial age barrier.
Fourth, health problems are not the only source of fatalities among drivers. Alcohol abuse, excessive speed, and not wearing the safety belt are far more relevant. Older people are generally more cautious than the younger ones and therefore they are less exposed to such dangerous driving behavior.
Fifth, in line with the above, it has been proved that older drivers tend to avoid driving at night, in poor weather, on highways, during rush hour, and following at-fault crashes. Moreover, research has shown that the elderly freely reduce their driving when they feel they have lost visual acuity. We may presume that a clearly impaired health status could finally determine a senior person to completely abandon driving after all.
Sixth, any definition of “old” is purely arbitrary. If an age limit for driving were to be accepted, which should be that particular limit? Sixty-five? Seventy-five? Eighty-five? On what basis can anyone set this boundary?
Seventh, as mentioned above, teenagers are more likely to be victims of car crashes than octogenarians. Should we ban the youngsters away from the roads, as well?
What are then the possible solutions for preventing fatal collisions among the older drivers? State governments have a variety of methods, including the adoption of in-person renewal requirements, vision tests, road tests, and the implementation of a shorter renewal period. Various studies (although there is no unanimity) have shown that such laws can be effective. A shorter period between license renewals, as well as in-person renewal, can help license inspectors detect drivers with obvious sensory-motor disturbances and, furthermore, it may discourage those with significant health problems to even apply for such renewals. Vision test laws have also been associated with lower fatality rates among older drivers, whereas the efficacy of road tests is still debated. Finally, the enforcement of laws that limit speed, prohibit alcohol consumption when driving, and compel the use of the safety belt is an additional method in the hands of state governments that may reduce road casualties involving older (as well as younger) drivers.