Perception persists that older drivers are dangerous drivers
On Sept 28, a 65-year-old male driver going the wrong way on a Tokyo-area highway plowed into a car carrying three passengers, killing one and seriously injuring the other two.
Well, there it is – more proof, if any is needed, that elderly drivers are a deadly menace. Everybody knows it; why isn’t something done about it?
But is what “everybody knows” necessarily true? Actually, says Shukan Post (Oct 18), older drivers are victims of a smear campaign. Accidents involving them tend to get played up, but if you look at police statistics, their record by no means warrants the fear they elicit.
They do, the evidence suggests, tend to drive in the wrong direction more than is good for them or others – 70% of the 447 accidents attributable over the past two years to that cause have involved a driver aged 65 or over. Vision and hearing weaken with age, reflexes slow, and so on.
But that’s not the whole story. There are other statistics to consider. For example: in 2012, elderly drivers (“elderly” defined as 65 and up) were involved in 102,997 accidents nationwide – up from 83,058 in 2002. “So you see, it’s going up!” you say. Yes – 1.2-fold in 10 years; but during those same 10 years, the elderly population increased 1.7-fold. Looked at that way, the situation is getting better, not worse.
Then there’s this: Elderly drivers account for 17% of all licensed drivers, and yet are involved in 16% of accidents – versus 21% for drivers in their 20s and 19% for those in their 30s.
If we consider only fatal accidents, the elderly again come off, comparatively speaking, not too badly – 6.31 elderly drivers per 100,000 were involved in fatal accidents in 2012, as against 8.52 per 100,000 aged 16-24.
Still, the perception persists: an old driver is a dangerous driver. The elderly can be their own worst enemy in this regard. “My husband refuses to quit driving,” complains a 65-year-old wife of her 73-year-old husband. “If a driver causing an accident only hurt himself, that would be one thing. But what if he hits a child? What then? If a child darts out suddenly onto the road, would my husband react quickly enough?”
Grown children can be similarly wary concerning their parents. “I was looking forward to taking my family – wife, children, grandchildren – for long drives after I retired,” Shukan Post hears from a 67-year-old man. “I saved up my money and bought a new car just for that. Now all of a sudden my children are saying they won’t let the kids ride with me! They insist I give up my license! Listen – I’m not in my dotage yet! It’s true my reflexes are slower than they once were, but I make up for it by being more careful.”
A Tokyo taxi driver in his 70s has this to say: “I’ve been driving for over 30 years and I know this city like the back of my hand. Unlike younger drivers, I don’t drive with one eye on the GPS navigator. And unlike a lot of drivers in their 50s, I don’t work myself beyond exhaustion just to make money. And yet – some people flagging down a cab see my white hair and wrinkled face and all of a sudden their hand goes down, they turn away. They won’t take me; they’re afraid I’m unsafe.”
Is that a form of profiling? Let the reader decide.