Monday, March 30, 2009

They're at it again

Spring is a time of crocuses and robins. It's the time when a young man’s fancy is said to lightly turn to thoughts of love or, if you're my age, baseball. It's also the time when some formerly hibernating senior citizens who have no business driving get back on the road and create a menace to all of us. There were two examples of this over the weekend in the Pittsburgh area (just imagine how many occurred nationwide). A contributor to the O-R daily poll noted that on Saturday, an older driver slammed his car into a house in Penn Hills, damaging the home and rupturing a gas line. Then, on Sunday, we saw just how deadly some of these over-the-hill drivers can be. An 82-year-old woman ran over and killed an 80-year-old man who was standing in the parking lot of the DeLallo Italian Marketplace in Hempfield, Westmoreland County. The woman, who was backing up her car to leave the lot, told police she saw the man in her rear-view mirror and initially hit the brakes, but then put her foot back on the gas when she could no longer see him. In short order, the old guy was dead. And we're not talking about someone briefly hitting the accelerator, backing up a few feet and striking a pedestrian. The elderly lady must've really jammed on the gas pedal, because police say she plowed over three concrete planters before taking out the poles holding up an entranceway awning at the business. Sometime during the demolition derby, the old man was trapped under her car. My question is this: How many times does this kind of thing have to happen before those with the power to do something (your state legislators) require that drivers over a certain age must be subjected to new physicals and driving tests? As it stands now, only a couple of states require that the elderly pass new road tests to renew a license. In most states, senior citizens of any age can renew their licenses just by cutting a check and sending in a form. No questions asked. We hear people make the excuse that young drivers are dangerous, too, but that's a red herring. Young drivers, provided they survive those dangerous early years behind the wheel, will go on, on average, to become better drivers. For many elderly drivers, it's a one-way trip toward becoming a hazard to themselves and others who have the misfortune to share the roads with them. A USA Today story from 2007 cites a Carnegie Mellon University study that found the fatality rate for drivers aged 75 to 84 was equal to the rate of teens, but drivers 85 and older had a fatality rate four times that level. The story also cited a prediction by road-safety analysts who say that by 2030, when all of the baby boomers are at least 64 years old, they will account for a full quarter of all fatal crashes. That figure was 11 percent in 2005. The threat is clear. When is somebody going to do something about it? I know our state lawmakers are generally the worst kind of cowards when it comes to offending constituents (especially those who vote in large numbers), but enough is enough.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good idea. To be sure, there are a lot of seniors out there who are perfectly fine drivers, and that fact would become apparent if they were tested.

What age should the testing start? 75? 80? Any thoughts?

--Brad Hundt

March 30, 2009 at 1:48 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

We'd have to balance the cost of something like this with the potential benefits. I'm thinking maybe 70.

March 30, 2009 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

I think 70 would be the right age. I think drivers that age should have to be "re-certified" or something just to make sure their reflexes are still good, their vision is all right, and most important, to verify that they're aware that it's no longer 1945 and there are LOTS more cars on the road going considerably faster.

March 30, 2009 at 2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not everyone be tested as health related issues can happen at any age that impair driving? If we are going to add more regulation, why not head where the slippery slope is leading?

March 30, 2009 at 2:26 PM  
Blogger {cher} said...

i think 65 should be the age and retested every 5 years. working in the insurance industry, i cannot tell you how stubborn people can get in their elderly age when it comes to admitting they cannot do something.

March 30, 2009 at 2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, if you want to follow the logic of "Anonymous," why give a license to anybody? Let's just do away with those, along with license plates for that matter. And insurance. And speed limits. Let the highways of America be a free-for-all! And if you get killed by a hormone-hopped 13-year-old going 85 MPH, die happy in the knowledge that he was exercising his rights in a deregulated America!

--Brad Hundt

March 30, 2009 at 2:39 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

To anonymous, I would say, "Get real." You have to be cognizant of the cost of such a program and target it toward the real issue. The elderly are, far and away, the people with the highest level of health-related and age-related problems that affect ability to drive. It's very clear from the numbers that this group, as a whole, represents a danger, and as America ages, it's a growing danger. I'm curious as to your reasoning for opposing this. Is it a strong libertarian streak? If so, as Brad says, one can assume you would be in favor of no controls whatsoever on our driving privileges. And that would be idiocy.

March 30, 2009 at 2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to think that this was a good idea to remove older individuals from the road. Until. . . I realized that to do so would mean to confine them to their homes. It's one thing to take their licenses if there is suitable bus transportation, but most cities cut back to where the sighting of a bus is a rare occurrence.

God forbid the hospitals of the world provide this type of transportation over a wide swatch.

I know there are senior care programs that offer rides but these too are few and far between. If I get to that age, I would gladly give up my license if I had some way to get to where I needed to go.

March 30, 2009 at 5:35 PM  
Blogger Dawn Keller said...

If we are going to do it, I say everyone should have to do it. I mean ... there is no specific age cutoff when health problems start happening so perhaps it's best if the tests are done all along.
Maybe it could alternate ... the first time you renew your license, you take the driving portion over. The second time, you take the eye text over. The next time you take the driving test again, ect.

March 30, 2009 at 5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hence the slippery and expensive slope and the unintended consequenes of an action.

March 31, 2009 at 12:04 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

So, Mr. Slippery Slope, what's your answer to this growing problem? We can say that doctors and families have the front-line responsibility to take action when grandpa and grandma are losing their driving skills and faculties, but clearly they're not getting the job done. I guess, in your mind, we just continue to let thousands of elderly people be a threat to themselves and others, just as we refuse to do something about the hazard of people talking on the telephone, and even texting, while they drive. Tackling this specific problem is not a "slippery slope." There's a specific problem that needs a specific solution. Once again, I ask, do you propose no restrictions on driving. We already have plenty. Has that been a "slippery slope," and if so, where has it led us, in your opinion?

March 31, 2009 at 6:48 AM  
Blogger amom said...

My mother, who is 72 and not a bad driver, would probably appreciate being tested since it would prove to herself and her family that she is fully capable of driving. On the flip side, this could give some seniors a false sense of bravado. Also, even if they fail the re-test and have their license taken away, there will most likely be seniors who still get in their cars and go.

March 31, 2009 at 8:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait until you folks reach age 70 - right now you think it's really old, but I think you won't feel that way once you hit the milestone. I think testing is a good idea..but I wonder if testing will reveal all problems. Maybe this 82-year old woman would have passed the test. And shouldn't the 80 year old have been tested as well - his reflexes didn't get him out of the way like a younger person could have. I also agree that it's a terrible thing to prevent people the freedom of driving...and not all seniors live on a bus line or can rely on senior citizen bus services...I've read stories in the paper that sometimes they wait 2 or more hours for a bus to show up that never comes. We need much better public transportation if we're going to prevent the elderly from driving. It's a complicated problem but I think testing every 10 years for all drivers is a good idea. Medical problems aren't confined to the elderly. And we absolutely must do something about people who text and phone while driving - those teens scare me much more than a pokey old driver who "sits low and drives slow."

March 31, 2009 at 10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All Drivers, see Brant that is where POLITICS will lead, it can't help but go there. Then you have the ADD and more to consider. That is why it is a slippery slope in the real world of political gamesmanship, versus the fantasy world of something just working the way you want.

Freedom First

March 31, 2009 at 2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These posts are almost funny, if the situation wasn't so sad. Here we read numerous arguments for testing older drivers because they might not be safe on the roads. To be sure, some fatalities happen, such as the ones cited.

Meanwhile, 17,000 people die from drunken driving every year, 40,000 are injured, and the cost because of loss of productivity into the billions. And, guess what? Only a few people care.

The reason for the drunken driving accidents is no mystery. No blue ribbon panels are needed to investigate, no congressional hearings (hence, no grandstanding), or no multi-million dollar reports are needed. The reason is well understood and known. But, while people sit around the table and talk about an age for testing older drivers (to prohibit a few deaths), thousands are being killed by drunken drivers. No to discount those loosing their lives because of elderly drivers, but put your energies where it will save the most lives. This debate is only to obfuscate a much more important problem.

March 31, 2009 at 8:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could not agree more.

Freedom First

March 31, 2009 at 10:52 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

Um, uh, we already have very strict laws against drinking and driving. That threat has been addressed. Now, maybe you want to spend more money on enforcement or impose even tougher penalties. That's another subject for debate, and we can do that here, if you'd like. But to suggest that the problem is being ignored is patently ridiculous. We, the taxpayers, spend tens of millions of dollars on this issue. And to say only a few people care is also absurd. Also, drunken-driving fatalities fell in 2007 across the nation. However, drunken-driving fatalities are up among motorcyclists. Wonder how many of those folks might have been saved by wearing a helmet? But the real issue is this: We should not ignore the threat posed by impaired elderly drivers, just because there's a bigger threat posed by drunken drivers. Both deserve our attention. Your argument is akin to saying that we shouldn't get too worked up over rape cases because murder is a bigger problem. And to the last poster, when you repeatedly say "Freedom First," are you trying to surreptitiously advertise for the federal credit union of that name?

April 1, 2009 at 6:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No Brant, just stating how I view things.
I like not having a helmet law, I have one momma and I have one pappa and I don't NEED the government to take their place.
I want and desire to be free including the right to make bad decisions.
Now with that said, if I choose not to wear a helmet and it leads to my death (and it obviously doesn't effect anyone else) that should be my choice.
and no I don't care about increased insurance rates due to it. Freedom should not be curtailed due to insurance company rates. I can't even imagine what men like Jefferson or Adams would have thought of that strange modern logic.
It is also a slogan of the NRA (vote freedom first) and other groups.

Freedom First baby!

April 1, 2009 at 8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No Brant -- nobody really wants to touch the drunken driving issue because it hits too close to home. Politicians don't want to change laws because they know they might be one of the first to get snagged. The general public don't want changes because they too are concerned they might be snagged. Some attempts (e.g. sobriety checkpoints)at enforcement are decried as "infringement."

Our society has just developed a tolerance for these 17,000 annual deaths. For example, yesterday's news included a story about pistachio nuts. I think one million pounds of nuts were recalled. Why? Two people got sick. We don't have a tolerance for tainted food, but we have a big tolerance for drunken drivers.

April 1, 2009 at 10:04 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

What are you proposing? Checkpoints on every road at every hour of the day to catch the stray drunken driver? It seems to me that police are catching a lot of drunken drivers. And I do find random checkpoints on our roads to be an infringement on my rights and the rights of everyone else who is stopped. We have a secondary seat-belt law, yet police are allowed to have checkpoints where they check everyone for seat-belt use. Last year, state police conducted a checkpoint on my road. I stopped and was asked to provide my license, registration and proof of insurance. Then the trooper asked me where I had been and where I was going. It's none of his GD business where I was and where I was headed, but I complied because I didn't want to sit by the side of the road while they called in the drug dogs and tossed my car. If there has been a major crime spree in an area, or if there has been a bunch of drunken-driving incidents in the area of a particular bar, then you have cause for such stops. Otherwise, it's just wrong.

April 1, 2009 at 10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boy on that point I do agree with you Brant. The stops are insane and are wrong. They assume that someone is guilty and the cops have NO RIGHT to ask where you are going or what you are doing unless you are committing a crime.

Freedom First

April 1, 2009 at 11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Retesting at a given age would be the right thing to do, however, our local legislators need miricle grow sprinkled on their chairs. They would never and i mean never support a bill that would go against their senior voters. Because, lets face it. The seniors are the constant voters no matter who's on the ballot.

April 3, 2009 at 10:23 AM  

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