January 5, 2016
The state of Michigan has recently implemented a new plan for keeping its aging drivers safe on the road. In addition to a study that the government has begun, focusing on issues specific to senior citizen drivers, the state has also created a website that is aimed at helping seniors, their caregivers and families, and their physicians in determining whether they are still safe drivers. If the answer is no, the site provides resources for helping them to stop driving. The site is called Safe Drivers Smart Options: Keys to Lifelong Mobility, and it not only has assessment tests but also helps people find access to things like driving classes and public transportation.
Michigan is in part concerned about this issue because they have the eighth largest senior population in the United States, and within that demographic, the number of licensed drivers 65 and older has gone up 30 percent in 10 years. Although younger drivers present more risk to the community than aging drivers, statistically speaking, the risk of an accident does increase as a person ages, and the dangers to both the senior driver and to the community at large are very real. But a lot of family members avoid the subject with their older loved ones because of the sensitivity of the issue and the problems it presents when a person cannot drive him- or herself around anymore. And because Michigan doesn’t license drivers any differently based on their age, the elderly are only subject to the same tests and regulations as every other driver, despite the fact that their abilities may decline much faster as a natural result of the aging process.
Karen Adams’s sister died two years ago when a senior citizen hit their car while Karen was waiting to make a left turn. She is a proponent of more frequent licensing checks for seniors, saying she doesn’t want it done “in a Draconian-type way” but that she believes it is important because it forces families to confront the issue of unsafe driving rather than ignore it until someone gets hurt. It’s worth noting that two-thirds of the states agree with Karen and use different requirements when issuing a driver’s license to an older driver. Michigan is not one of those states, citing age discrimination as one reason not to do it.
But Michigan is not ignoring the potential problem of having a vast number of senior citizens on the road. “In our car-centric world, seniors don’t want to lose their independence. Our goal is to help aging drivers develop strategies that will keep them driving for as long as it is safe to do so,” Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said when unveiling the website. It took about two years to create the site with the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Secretary of State’s Office, the Michigan State Police, and a few private organizations such as AARP Michigan coordinating their efforts. The entire group is hoping that their efforts will have a positive impact on the community, keeping both senior drivers and everyone else on the road a little safer in the years to come by providing as much information and as many options as possible.