Reform traffic laws for young, old drivers

Shelly Blundell

I’ll never forget the indignation my grandmother expressed when my family took her car away two years ago. She was 82 years old, had lived on her own for well more than 20 years and saw us removing her vehicle as a declaration of war. However, what “Nanna” didn’t appreciate was that claiming “the stop sign was out of order” will never count as grounds for hitting another car you simply didn’t see.

Why the somewhat strange introduction, you ask? I was involved in a car accident late Sunday afternoon. While the details are superficial at this point, I will say I was not at fault – the elderly gentleman driving the other car was. While my boyfriend and I were considerably shaken up, the gentleman seemed to take it in his stride, actually chastising me for my “dangerous choice of color” in a car (I drive a silver Honda Civic) – it seems he did not see me because my car “blended in with the sky.”

What concerned me more than the damage to my car was the potential for serious injury in everyone’s case. My boyfriend, who was in the passenger seat, could have been badly hurt if I had hit the other car a little bit more to the right. I narrowly avoided crashing into oncoming traffic in my instinctual reaction to swerve out of the way of the other car. But worst of all was the gentleman’s casual demeanor after the collision – as if his failure to see my car while running a stop sign was of no concern to him.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, older people accounted for 12 percent of all traffic fatalities and 16 percent of all pedestrian fatalities in 2004. In the same year, 141,000 older individuals were injured in traffic crashes, accounting for 5 percent of all the people injured in traffic crashes during the year. While older people are almost twice as likely to be wearing a seatbelt at the time of collision, and have by far the lowest rate of drunken driving in the country, they still come in a high second place when it comes to fatalities in traffic accidents.

The first group on the list is people aged 16-20. In fact, according to the Ohio Teen Driver Coalition, two out of five teen deaths in the United States are the result of a motor vehicle crash. One of the primary reasons for this is alcohol consumption.

In this instance, it seems plausible to draw a link between older and very young drivers, especially young drivers under the influence of alcohol: slowed reaction time, less reactive reflex motion and impaired judgment. By far, those under the age of 25 and those over the age of 70 are the most dangerous drivers on the road, alcohol or no alcohol. And because the United States insists on letting people drive at the age of 16, bad habits developed as a teenager transcend into later years and become even worse as drivers get older.

I do not wish to target any one group – I know people in both groups who could most likely drive circles around me. I am asking for a reform of traffic laws, something places like Chicago and Denver are already doing – tougher testing, older age requirement for first-time drivers and mandatory testing for all drivers over the age of 70 when renewing their license.

While Nanna would probably disagree with me on this, I hope she understands that sometimes one has to consider the greater good. I only hope I have the responsibility to accept when I can no longer capably handle a motor vehicle – whether I’m 70 or 27.

Shelley Blundell is a senior magazine journalism and history major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]