The Maryland Highway Safety Office publishes an annual report which focuses on their proposed strategies for reducing fatalities and personal injuries on Maryland's roads. The 2013 tome has been the focus of Clark and Steinhorn's multi-part series and today's focus is on older drivers.
The last episode concerned younger drivers and the unique problems they bring to the table. Younger drivers have been in accidents which have killed on average 77 people annually for the period 2008 to 2012. Somewhat surprisingly, older drivers have an annual crash-related fatality rate of 85 people per year in Maryland.
Typically we think of teen drivers as being a huge source of crashes and this is true but manifestly older drivers on average are deadlier. So what does the the MHSO propose to pursue their stated goal of "Zero Deaths" as concerns the elderly driver?
They identify four areas of concern. the first, driver awareness and self-assessment, the second, driving skills, the third, occupant protection and the final one, medication management.
These all sound promising and unlike the proposed strategies for reducing teen driver crashes, they don't seem to be pamphlets and informational sessions....right?
It is hard to tell from the MHSO how exactly these objectives are being pursued. They held a symposium with 300 attendees on Maryland Older Driver Safety but that hardly seems likely to reach many of the estimated 1 in 5 drivers over 65 in Maryland. Which is to say that Maryland's 800,000 over 65 drivers probably didn't learn much from the symposium's 300 attendees.
That is a particularly disturbing fact when MHSO has as its number one focus "driver awareness and self-assessment." How does one become aware or self-assess? For that matter, how does one know one needs to self-assess. This seems more the province of say the MVA right?
In a similar vein a focus on "driving skills" sounds great but who is doing it and when? anyone? Anyone? Again the MVA seems like the best candidate for evaluating elderly driver skills but there is no provision for this outside of self-reported "medical conditions".
Everyone in my middle aged cadre has stories of terrifying elderly parent driving and yet I haven't heard a single instance of "self-reporting" or "self-assessment" resulting in action by the MVA in Maryland.
Occupant protection has been discussed in a recent previous installment of this series so we know what that means but while "medication management" seems essential, who is doing that? Certainly, doctors were reported to be among the "300" who attended the symposium but when was the last time you heard of a doctor reporting someone to the MVA?
The bottom-line is that expecting elderly drivers to "self assess" and "self report" is a pipe dream. Unless and until elderly drivers receive actual outside assessment of their "driving skills" and "medication management" on a routine basis little will be done in Maryland and nationally to reduce fatal crashes casued by elderly drivers.
Doubtless, I will resent and fight efforts to tak me off the road when I am too old to drive safely but as Maryland judge's often say "driving is a privilege not a right." It is for society to determine when and how often older drivers should be tested but maybe every 5 years starting at age 70 wouldn't be a bad idea. We won't make them parallel park.