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State should set rules for older drivers

August 3, 2010
The Daily Mining Gazette

Michigan's lawmakers have spent a great deal of time and effort in recent years to deal with young drivers. The state's graduated license program is built on sound research that finds the restrictions reduce auto crashes.

Now it's time for legislators to work on the other end of the spectrum: better rules governing senior drivers.

By 2025, a quarter of all drivers will be 65 or older, USA Today reports. Yet, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that Michigan is among the large number of states with no special provisions for licensing older drivers.

Fortunately, other states have pioneered methods to enhance road safety while still giving able senior drivers the opportunity to keep driving.

Massachusetts just enacted a law requiring citizens 75 or older to renew driver's licenses in person and to undergo vision tests every five years.

And USA Today reported last year that "a 2004 Florida law requiring that older drivers pass a vision test before getting a license renewed has helped cut the death rate among drivers 80 and older by 17 percent, according to researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham."

Being older does not automatically make a person a less skilled driver. Years of experience in reacting to the mistakes of others prove beneficial every day.

But statistics analyzed by the Insurance Institute show a relationship between age and auto crashes: "Older drivers have low rates of police-reported crash involvements per capita, but per mile traveled crash rates start increasing for drivers 70 and older and increase markedly after age 80."

With the driving population graying, Michigan cannot afford to act as if the status quo is fine.

One method noted by the institute for improving road safety for seniors is to alter the actual road network by, for example, replacing traditional intersections with roundabouts. They have the great advantage of slowing traffic speeds.

Testing, particularly for vision, is another safety tool. A 2004 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reported that just requiring people to show up for license renewal (as Massachusetts will now do) reduces crashes. "Researchers say those who are unfit to drive decide not to seek a new license out of fear they will flunk if they show up," the Wall Street Journal reported.

Michigan should not be looking to take able senior drivers off the road. Neither, though, should the state be comfortable with policies that just assume all elderly drivers are safe.

Lansing State Journal



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