APPROXIMATELY 23 million licensed drivers 65 years or older currently drive on our roadways; and with the prediction of a rapidly aging society, we expect more and more older persons to share the road. It is estimated that 20 years from now, nearly 25% of all drivers will be older than 65 years, an increase from 15% today. For those who firmly believe that the older driver is, or will soon be, a hazardous driver, these demographic trends presage an emerging public health crisis. There is a public outcry to reduce this perceived threat. We find ourselves in the midst of a debate that pits our core values of personal freedom and individual autonomy against the goal of protection of public safety through the powers of the state. The most common solution offered involves creating laws and regulations that would be broadly applied to all older drivers, ultimately restricting licensing based solely on a driver's age. Will this approach, in fact, truly protect the public interest?
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Mindy J. Fain, MD
Rate of motor vehicle crashes per licensed driver by age in 1996 (data from the US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1998).
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