Old drivers pose road hazards

The increased mobility of senior citizen drivers could equal independence, but could also pose a potential threat to others. With increased health care and a longer life expectancy compared to previous generations, Americans are living and staying healthy much longer.

This has resulted in the massive number of senior citizen drivers on the road.

Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show elderly drivers have one of the highest accident rates. However, the NHTSA refers only to drivers who are at least 70 years old as senior citizens.

The question of whether drivers should have their licenses revoked once they reach a certain age, or should be required to retake their driver’s license test, has become a topic of interest in recent months.

The issue recently hit close to home when 85-year-old retired Florida A&M University band director William P. Foster was charged with a hit-and-run on Aug. 10. Although his accident did not cause any fatalities, the victim-Robert Safford, 81-had a broken right leg, chipped backbone, cuts to his scalp and other cuts and bruises over his body.

Lindsey Sarjeant, FAMU band director and personal friend of Foster’s, said Foster’s case is not directly related with age.

“[Foster] is a man with wonderful character, and his accident is truly unfortunate,” Sarjeant said.

He said he does not believe age should restrict elders’ driving privileges or that senior citizens should be viewed as potentially accident-prone. However, he did say physicians should play a greater role in diagnosing those who are physically impaired.

Another case involving Russel Weller, the 86-year-old California man who killed ten people and injured dozens as his car ran into a farmers market, brought the issue of senior citizens’ driving rights to the national forefront this past summer. Weller said he believed he was hitting the brake, when was actually stepping on the accelerator.

The underlying conflict is, “How old is too old?”

Issues of impaired vision and slower muscle reflections as a result of age, have been used in debates that favor the banning of drivers over the age of 75.

Organizations, such as the American Association for Retired Persons, have developed training courses to assist aging drivers. The AARP has developed a mature driving program titled “55 Alive,” an instructional course offered to anyone who is at least 55 years of age.

Doris Ballard-Ferguson, associate dean for Graduated Programs in the School of Nursing said older drivers who understand their elements are not hazardous and are some of the safest drivers. Ballard-Ferguson who has past experience with studies in gerontology, attributes slower reaction time and loss of adaptation to light as reasons why older motorist drive slowly. She added, ” most older people have correctable physical changes.” That means even though their physical elements may begin to decline, with professional care, older drivers can be restored to safe status.

“Older drivers should be extra careful while behind the wheel because they should know they’re losing their edge,” said Melinda Rios, a 19-year-old general studies student from New Jersey.

Rios said she understands the need of senior citizens to be mobile and admits to her impatience with older drivers. She said she would not single them out as being hazardous.

Rios also said that a driver at any age should be obligated to take responsibility for their actions while driving.

Contact Shayna Tutson at famuannews@hotmail.com