Should Senior Citizens be Required to Pass Driving Tests? Is it Discrimination?

June 6, 2009

Brian Joyce, a State Senator from Massachusetts, has submitted a bill that would require anyone renewing their license after their 85th birthday to pass a vision and a road test every five years. Oh the controversy!

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The Canton Citizen newspaper reports:

In a press release issued last week, Joyce, a Milton Democrat whose district includes the town of Canton, announced he is re-filing “An Act to Promote Safe Driving,” a bill that would require all persons renewing their license after their 85th birthday to pass a vision and a road test every five years. Described by Joyce as “simple age-based reforms,” the bill would nonetheless mark a distinct departure from current Massachusetts law, which “prohibits discrimination by reason of age with regard to licensing.”

“Current law requires only a vision test once every 10 years,” Joyce explained, “which means that an 85-year-old driver can renew his or her license without further testing until age 95, at which time the driver would only have to pass a simple vision test.”

There are presently about nineteen million seniors on the road in the U.S. By 2020 it’s expected that number will grow to 30 million. Statistics indicate drivers aged 75 and older have a 37% higher crash rate than younger drivers.

Is this an appropriate safety measure, to test aging drivers’ skills and abilities? Or is it age discrimination, ageism? The AARP has declared this bill discriminatory. When is it time to give up or take an elder’s car keys? What do YOU think?

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Photo by Greg Marshallsome rights reserved

{ 8 comments }

Sue June 7, 2009 at 2:31 pm

I think that Seniors should give up driving if they have medical issues that affects their thinking. Or if they are on medications that make them have poor judgment, they should stop driving.

My mom gave up driving when we moved, she couldn’t find her way home when she went out driving. It was a blessing for sure.

Now she wants to buy a new car. I’m not cheering her on to get behind a wheel again, it’s too scary.

I think a driving test should start at 75.

Babette June 14, 2009 at 2:42 am

I’m voting for safety so I agree that there should be tests for seniors who are over 80 years old. Just this month, there are news reports every week of seniors in their 80s involved in accidents here in MA. If someone wants to continue driving, they have to prove that they are able to do so. When my dad reaches this age, I would be concerned about him driving for sure. I’m sure there are seniors in their 80s who are still capable of driving so they shouldn’t be worried about the tests.

Derrick June 16, 2009 at 1:11 pm

Babette, I’m not sure what can be done about the driving exam, but if the issue is your father’s ability to get out of the house for medications, etc. there may be volunteer driving programs in your area. One such national program can be found here: http://www.itnamerica.org/

Good luck.

nancy June 22, 2009 at 12:34 pm

if the law truly states “prohibits discrimination by reason of age with regard to licensing” then a 12 year old could qualify. as for elderly drivers, exams would be beneficial every year after 75 years old. it isn’t any more age discrimination than the 15 year old permit. i have an 81 year old dad who stopped himself from driving for a while when he had some health issues. he is driving again and could pass any exam. my mom – who has dementia – had her license renewed through the mail! so, she can legally drive but would be a horrible hazard on the road and would not be able to pass an exam. who has a better legal and safety position?

William Ward January 9, 2010 at 8:35 am

I do believe that Seniors should be tested to drive, just like everyone else. In fact, I think there should be a more extensive kind of test for those over 80.
My father was 82, blind in one eye with mild dimentia and weeak, unreliable legs and he was still driving. It wasn’t until the doctor ordered that he not drive any more that he finally gave up driving.
There comes a point where, even though we have to give up certain things, we just have to appreciate being here, even if it means not driving.

Paul January 11, 2010 at 8:34 am

I think the most difficult part of re-testing seniors is dealing with the idea that if they fail, they lose a part of their independence; their ability to be mobile. But sometimes the need for keeping loved ones safe outweighs the need to stay in the driver’s seat.
Katherine Freund, Founder and President of ITNAmerica, is currently discussing her own conversation with her parents about giving up their car keys. In this moving account in her own words, Freund takes us from the very beginning of how she started the conversation before it was to late, going through every step along the way until her parents transitioned to the passenger seat in a way that left everyone feeling good about the decision. Read her multi-part entries at her blog (http://blog.itnamerica.org/).

driving theory tests December 10, 2010 at 6:58 am

There is a reason why a license is needed. … A person who cannot pass the written, vision, and driving test cannot drive. ….

mclarenfan January 31, 2011 at 7:52 pm

I know many out there are worried about the argument they will have when they ‘have the talk’ with their elderly parents, and I can totally relate. It is a difficult discussion, but it is one that needs to be made. In the period of three weeks, my paternal grandmother (86), my maternal grandfather and grandmother (both at 84) and my cousin (85) were in serious (separate) car accidents. My cousin was actually in three accidents in one day (as far as we can tell, anyway). We are still trying to get the facts from the police/paramedics as he is still in a coma. The other family members are expected to recover, but not without undergoing significant therapy. Unfortunately the young people they hit weren’t so lucky. We’ve all known for at least 10 years that these family members should not be allowed to drive, but we ignored it and went on our way. Now we have the guilt of not only pain and suffering of our elderly family members, but also the guilt of knowing that a young child lost their mother and a newly married husband lost his wife as a result of the lack of driving ability of my elderly grandparents.

It’s never too early to start talking to them about options. Let them know that someday they will be forced to give up their keys and stop driving – not only to protect themselves, but also to save the lives of other drivers. Discuss plans so when the time comes, everyone knows what to do.

I firmly believe that all states should mandate testing for all drivers over the age of 75. It’s not age discrimination – it’s acknowledging the fact that the human body slows down after a certain age and protecting the safety of all drivers on the road.

If costs are a problem – dismantle the TSA which can’t protect their way out of a wet paper bag and use the funds to institute a yearly or bi-yearly testing regiment for drivers over 75.

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