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Driving Ability - Government Regulation Of The Older Driver

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Typically sparked by an accident involving an older driver, combined with the ensuing media coverage, the issue of what age is too old to drive has often become a debatable policy problem. While policymakers want drivers on the roadways to be safe drivers, they are not inclined to pass legislation limiting the driving of older adults. The issue is emotionally charged, as many older drivers in the United States have been driving for forty or more years and do not want to give up their privileges, and in most instances this is neither appropriate nor necessary. This fact, combined with uncertainty about defining old, deciding how best to assess driving skills, and a general lack of organizational capacity to implement such regulation, usually results in little if any regulatory change.

Ambiguity surrounds the definition of old. While some people in their fifties might have severe physical impairments caused by aging, others in their eighties might be perfectly capable of driving as safely as they were many years previous. Each state that regulates older drivers has determined the age at which the licensing laws change. The youngest age at which a state implements restrictions is fifty (in Oregon), while the oldest age at which point changes are mandated is seventy-five (in Illinois, Montana, New Hampshire, and New Mexico).

Typical relicensing restrictions on older drivers involve the length of time between renewals. In some states the duration of a valid license is reduced by some amount for older drivers. For example, Iowa allows drivers to possess a license for four years before renewal, but when a person reaches age seventy, his or her license is only valid for two years. These regulations provide the states more frequent control if drivers' abilities are slipping.

Another regulatory tool for older drivers is in the form of testing procedures. A few states that do not require periodic vision testing have implemented testing after a certain age, but most states require vision testing every few years for all drivers. A handful of states require a driving test at a certain age, and others require a driving test if the examiner at the Division of Motor Vehicles feels that the applicant should be tested. Tests for mental competency are not required by any state, but most allow the examiner the discretion of requiring further testing if necessary. Most states, however, at least suggest, if not mandate, that physicians must report individuals who are not competent to drive to the state licensing bureau.

One problem with testing older drivers is the lack of understanding surrounding the issue. No clear scientific study or policy consensus exists on the type of testing that would produce the most accurate results regarding the abilities of an older driver. Additional constraints include the budgets of licensing organizations, along with the question of what type of person would be the most qualified to give a test. While some people feel that anyone qualified should administer such a test, others question what makes a person qualified.

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