With the aging of the baby boomers, a large segment of the American population is reaching senior citizen status. Modern technology, combined with the large numbers of the post WW II babies, has led us to expect that the number of Americans over the age of 65 will steadily increase in the next few years. These citizens will be functioning in communities all over America. Senior Americans will be driving to visit friends, shop, and dine out, and even running car pools. Our highways will have an increased number of senior drivers. It is a fact that as we age our mental and physical abilities decrease. Due to a depreciation of mental and physical abilities associated with aging, senior citizens should be forced to annually show competency in the safe operation a motor vehicle in order to retain their license.
One of the physical limitations of older citizens is a limited range of motion. In most situations, it is necessary to have a full range of motion to operate a motor vehicle safely. When driving, it is important to be able to turn the steering wheel accurately. Precise steering is necessary to navigate through traffic. It is a necessity for the driver to be able to turn his head when backing a motor vehicle. The Tennessee Driving Manual suggests that when backing a vehicle, the driver should turn and look over his right shoulder. Because senior citizens have decreased mobility, proving their competency in this area will ensure that they are physically able to operate a vehicle safely. If someone is unable to perform these aforementioned functions, then this person need not have a driver’s license.
Driving is a skill that relies heavily on the sense of sight. If an individual’s eyesight has diminished, he is a hazard to himself and every other driver on the road with him. An annual eye exam should definitely be a part of the driver license exam and a requirement for senior citizens to retain their driver’s license.
Mental alertness is a must to be able to operate a car safely. Almost any driver could give testimony to being in a situation that could have been a collision, only to be avoided by the quick speed with which they were able to recognize and avoid danger. If a senior citizen’s reaction time is drastically slowed, what might have been a near miss could result in a fatal accident. However, if he proves his proficiency in this area his driving privileges should remain intact.
With recent medical advancements, admittedly a large number of senior citizens have not shown any considerable decrease in ability to operate a car safely. It is also understandable that someone with a safe driving record will probably feel that he should not have to prove himself competent to drive just because of his age. However, the lives that could be saved far outweigh the inconvenience to some citizens caused by re-testing for a driver’s license only once a year.
A great-uncle of mine lived in a retirement center. He was legally blind and had no night vision at all, yet he still attempted to drive himself. Luckily, my great-uncle was never involved in a serious accident, though he did cause quite a few fender benders. He should not have been licensed to operate a motor vehicle. He should not have been allowed to endanger every other driver on the street.
We all hopefully will one day become senior citizens. Some will be faced with dimming eyesight, some with arthritis, some with the sudden onset of illness. Though our elderly do at times need compassion, we must not let compassion cloud our view of what is clearly best for our young and old. Let us not depend on the same luck my great-uncle depended on. It is imperative, because of the depreciation of mental and physical abilities associated with aging, that senior citizens must be forced to annually show competency in the safe, and correct operation of a motor vehicle to retain their driving privileges.