The Limits of Driving

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Flickr / Susanne Nilsson

Brianna Wilson
Staff Writer

Nobody wants to face the dreaded day when their parents, grandparents or great grandparents are unable to do things for themselves anymore. Nobody wants to be the one to tell an elderly person they cannot drive or live on their own anymore. So when does respect for our elders become detrimental? One of the most controversial topics surrounding the ability of elderly people is whether they should be able to drive or not.

According to the CDC, over 5,700 older adult drivers were killed in vehicular accidents while more than 236,000 older adult drivers were treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to traffic accidents. While nobody wants to face this reality, it needs to be addressed for the safety and well-being of our older generations.

Some would argue that elderly drivers are safer because they tend to follow laws related to driving more closely. According to the American Automotive Association, they tend to wear seat belts, drive at or below the speed limit and abstain from drinking alcohol when driving. While this may be true, with age eyesight gradually worsens, reaction times go down and physical ailments become more common.

We have been taught to always respect our elders, especially here in the South, but what happens to that respect when an elderly person crashes into your car because they did not realize they were over the line?

Illinois is the only state that requires seniors to take road tests to maintain their license. All drivers over the age of 70 should be required to take the road test to maintain their license and should have to take that test more frequently the older they get. This would prevent unnecessary deaths and injuries from happening to elderly folks on the road.

Some would argue that even with those tests many driving instructors would pass these older drivers out of respect or discomfort, but we need to start viewing this as concern for our older generations rather than depriving them of freedom. This concern only becomes necessary when someone’s life is in danger. I know if I realized my grandma was not capable of driving safely anymore, I would take her license and keys myself because I love her and want her to be safe.

An annual driving test for elderly DMV patrons would prevent the common squabbles that can occur in a family over a serious issue, such as taking a parent or grandparent’s keys. Instead, the decision of when a loved one needs to stop driving would fall on the government, not the family.

There are many programs in assisted living communities and nursing homes that allow their residents to have transportation to certain stores. There are many family members who would be willing to drive their older loved ones around if it meant keeping them safe. There are better options than letting older folks out on the road who are not capable of driving safely.

How can a place where elderly adults will be cared for by professionals around the clock, with better medical care than in the homes of their children, be a bad option? There is nothing wrong with wanting the best for our loved ones even if we cannot provide it ourselves; there is nothing wrong with wanting our loved ones to be safe and healthy?

While I do advocate for a law that could deprive older people of autonomy, it is extremely important to recognize how it must feel to aging adults to slowly lose their ability to care for themselves. They slowly lose their ability to be autonomous, whether by their own physical ability or what society thinks of their physical or mental ability.

Many people equate elderly people to children, but they are far from it. Elderly people have acquired years of knowledge and experience. They have gone through many difficulties and joys in life to get to where they are.

Elderly people should be able to maintain their regular lifestyle until it is proven they cannot do it safely, which is what makes a law requiring driving tests for older drivers so useful.

We cannot lose sight of how hard it must be on these people, and we must maintain the respect they deserve even when they may lose the ability to do certain things like drive or live alone. Elders should be respected, but they should also be protected by their loved ones if necessary.



Categories: Columns, Opinions

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