ARE NEW RESTRICTIONS ON SENIOR DRIVERS NEEDED?
By: State Representative Mickey Mortimer
On July 16th, 86-year-old George Russell Weller apparently confused the gas pedal with the break and plowed his 1992 Buick LeSabre through a crowded farmers' market in Santa Monica, California. Ten people were killed and more than fifty were injured.
In the aftermath of this horrific accident, some have begun indicting all senior drivers for the actions of Mr. Weller. One California newspaper even editorialized in a tone fitting The National Enquirer that the accident "carried all the hallmarks of an elderly driver gone out-of-control." Numerous other pundits have called for new restrictions on senior drivers.
Is making it more difficult for seniors to drive statistically justified?
The answer is a resounding "No."
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, senior drivers between the age of 65 and 69 have an accident rate of 33 crashes for every 1,000 licensed drivers and senior drivers over the age of 69 have an accident rate of 30 crashes for every 1,000 licensed drivers. Both senior driver figures are well below the national average of 58 crashes for every 1,000 licensed drivers.
As Eli Leher of the American Enterprise Institute points out, most auto-insurance companies reduce rates for drivers over the age of 55 precisely because, statistically, they're safer drivers than the rest of the population.
Our states must resist the temptation to respond to the Santa Monica tragedy with new senior-specific driving regulations. Restricting the freedom of law-abiding seniors simply because they've reached a certain age is not only policy overkill, it's quite possibly unconstitutional age discrimination.
Once a person is of legal age, his or her driving privileges should be based only on driving record and physical ability. And to that end, the State of Michigan is on the right course. Michigan law provides for the referring of potentially unsafe drivers who no longer have the physical ability to drive to the Secretary of State's office for possible reexamination.
This is a sensible, preventative measure that has been used by law enforcement officials, health care professionals, family members, friends or concerned citizens help individuals to determine whether or not they are fit to drive.
Other groups are helping individuals determine their fitness to drive as well. The American Medical Association (AMA) recently approved recommendations that will help make doctors aware of factors that might impair the driving skills of their patients, and what options are available for those patients. And the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has created the Driver Safety Program, an educational course specifically designed for drivers age 50 and older.
The response to terrible Santa Monica accident must not be to scapegoat seniors by presuming they cannot drive once they reach a certain age. A better response is for the state to work closer with groups like the AMA and the AARP to help individuals - and the people that love them - make smart driving decisions no matter what their age.
Michigan State Representative Mickey Mortimer represents the 65th District, which includes portions of Jackson, Eaton and Lenawee counties.
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