According to AutoWeek, by the year 2030, we’ll have 70 million people in the United States over age 65. That’s twice as many seniors as today and their percentage of the licensed driving populace is expected to climb from just over one in 10 today (11 percent) to one in four.” Older drivers also need hands-on, behind-the-wheel professional driving instruction. They need to know the capabilities and limits of their vehicles. They need to be re-tested periodically after a certain age. Although we all have diminishing coordination, hearing, eyesight and mental acuity with age, many senior drivers are adamant about their “right to drive,” and will not voluntarily stop. Unfortunately, the physiology of aging results in higher fatality rates in senior vehicular collisions.
We talk about our teens and older drivers, what about the increasing number of illegal immigrants that are driving without licenses or insurance? Some state government officials have provided or propose to provide illegals with driver’s licenses. They believe this would identify previously unknown drivers and provide a stimulus to secure insurance. Those on the other side of this issue believe that such an action would provide a reward for breaking the law and perhaps a pathway to further entitlements. This issue grows in magnitude with each successive wave of illegal immigration and cannot be solved until we have a national policy that directly addresses the problem.
So, what can we do to address this multifaceted American conundrum? A sea change in attitude is a prerequisite. Estimates are that our population will reach 400 million in about 32 years with a 9 percent increase in roads but with a 135 percent increase in the number of drivers. The carnage will escalate without decisive actions.
We need a professionally staffed, adequately funded, non-governmental organization to mount a major national effort to reverse our course. This multifaceted problem requires “out of the box” approaches. It may be safer to drive in Australia, Denmark, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden because they have more rigorous law enforcement and more comprehensive driver education programs. The overall costs and time requirements may act to selectively reduce the number of drivers in these countries.
Some ideas for us to consider include: changing licensure laws to require more initial training and probationary periods, zero-tolerance driving under the influence laws, re-testing after, say, age 75; media messages and foundation supported national awareness and advocacy programs; Web sites and blogs aimed at teens; developing a cadre of expert speakers to address schools, parent-teacher groups, senior organizations, Rotary, Chambers of Commerce and any and all groups that will sit still for a presentation and discussion.
We all need to become passionate on this subject and become dedicated to constructive changes in our driving habits. Is driving a right or a privilege? Hopefully, the answer to this question will lead us down the right path. In the 1970’s we drove in the safest country in the world—this is no longer true.
FADD is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization