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California crash calls attention to elderly drivers

Last month, nine children and two adults were injured when a 100-year-old man backed his car onto a sidewalk outside of a California elementary school. Although no one suffered life-threatening injuries in the car accident, it has caused a reignition of the ongoing national debate on elderly drivers. Now, some traffic safety advocates are questioning whether older Americans should undergo additional driver's testing and closer monitoring in order to keep their driver's license past retirement age.

According to a 1997 study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, older people only make up about 9 percent of the U.S. population, but they account for about 14 percent of car accident fatalities and 17 percent of pedestrian deaths. And that number is expected to grow as the baby boomer generation ages, with the number of drivers over the age of 70 projected to triple in the next two decades.

So as U.S. drivers age, what should be done to prevent accidents such as this one from taking place in the future? Several states have laws in place to monitor the driving abilities of seniors. California, for example, requires drivers over the age of 70 to renew their driver's licenses in person. In addition, if older drivers fail a vision test or if a doctor, police officer or family member raises questions about their driving ability, they can be required to take a driving test.

But do these laws go far enough? Safety advocates say no, pointing to the most recent accident as an example. But it is important to note that the man involved in the accident discussed above drove safely for 30 years after turning 70, and it is not clear whether additional testing or monitoring could have prevented the crash.

Source: Christian Science Monitor, "Driver hits 11: Are elderly drivers making roads unsafe?" Aug. 30, 2012

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