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Should older drivers be required to prove their ability?
None of us favor undue government interference in our lives, but there are occasions when it's a useful thing.
Case in point: Grandpa's getting too old to drive, but no one wants to hurt his feelings by telling him. If the state steps in as "the bad guy," grandpa and the other drivers he encounters will be safer and family harmony preserved.
That's one of the arguments for a bill, offered by State Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff, which was to be the subject of a hearing today.
The bill, LB 351, would require cognitive tests for persons 80 years of age or older obtaining motor vehicle operator's licenses. That would cover about 60,000 Nebraskans if the bill is signed into law.
Like any issue, however, there are two sides to the question of allowing older people to drive.
While the number of older drivers is increasing in Nebraska, their vehicle accident rate has been decreasing, according to Fred Zwonechek, Nebraska Highway Safety administrator.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008, more than 5,500 older adults were killed and more than 183,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes, or 15 drivers 65 or older killed and 500 injured in crashes on average every day. But there are reasons more older drivers are involved in crashes -- there were 33 million licensed older drivers in 2009, a 23 percent increase from 1999.
Per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase starting at 75 and spike after age 80, according to the CDC, but this is largely due to the increased susceptibility to injuries and medical complications among older drivers rather than an increased tendency to get into crashes.
Yes, age-related declines in vision and cognitive function (ability to reason and remember), as well as physical changes, may affect some older adults' driving abilities. And, across all age groups, males had substantially higher death rates than females.
Older drivers do wear seat belts more -- 77 percent of those involved in fatal crashes were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash, compared to 63 percent for other adult occupants, according to the CDC. Older drivers tend to avoid driving in bad weather and at night, and drive fewer miles than younger drivers.
They also are less likely to drink and drive -- only 5 percent of older drivers involved in fatal crashes had a blood alcohol concentration of .08 grams per deciliter or higher -- legally impaired -- compared to 25 percent of those between ages 21 and 64.
Regardless of legal requirements, the CDC recommends that older drivers exercise regularly to increase strength and flexibility, have your doctor or pharmacist check all medications for side effects and interactions that might affect alertness, have your eyes checked at least once a year and follow recommendations, drive during daylight and good weather, plan the safest and most convenient route in advance, leave space between your vehicle and those ahead or behind, avoid distractions such as loud radio and cell phones, and consider sharing a ride, taking a cab or public transportation.