Time to Get Tough on Older Drivers


I sometimes wonder whether my grandmother, Frances Mathews, should have ever been behind the wheel. My grandfather sometimes wondered the same thing, aloud. She's so clumsy her nickname was, and is, Grandma Ooops.

But to her credit, she never did any serious damage to anyone on the roads, and as she got older, she limited her driving, first to local stops, then to daytime. Finally, several years ago, before her 90th birthday, she gave up driving all together. She worried she would hurt other people.

This is the common, responsible pattern of many senior citizens. Most senior citizens, no doubt.

But not everyone, tragically.

And so the recent news -- that a 100-year-old man backed his car into a group of children in South LA, sending 14 people to the hospital -- was unsurprising. And worse yet, preventable.

The man's daughter told reporters that she'd been trying to get him to stop driving for some time.

But, as NBC LA reported, she couldn't. And the state doesn't do much checking on older drivers. Beginning at age 70, drivers only have to be reviewed every five years, and even then they only take a written test and a vision test. There is no requirement of a driving test.

Tom Hayden, as a member of the legislature in the 1990s, suggested requiring driving tests.

But that legislation wss beaten back by the AARP and the Automobile Club of Southern California, which argue that older drivers are relatively safe as a class, particularly as compared to very young drivers.

That's a fine argument, with data to support it.

But it seems like common sense that for people as old as my grandmother -- she's 95 and doing well, and still not driving -- driving tests should be required. And that five years between such tests is not enough. Annual tests would be reasonable, given how quickly judgment and skill can deteriorate.

And if that's too much trouble for older drivers, then more may give up their cars. Which wouldn't be a tragedy. It might even prevent one.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

Send us your thoughts via Twitter @PropZero or add your comment to our Facebook page.

Contact Us