The Right to Drive
- [Former California State Senator Tom] Hayden said politicians have yet to show they have the political will to end the disparity between the "relatively harsh penalties on teenagers and an absolute laissez faire attitude toward older [drivers] who vote."
- — Whittier Daily News July 16, 2003 ("Issue of tests for older drivers again raised")
On July 16, 2003, 86-year-old George Russell Weller accidentally plowed his car through a Santa Monica farmer's market, killing 10 people (including a 3-year-old girl and a 7-month-old boy) and injuring more than 40 others.
The next day, an elderly driver in Melrose, Florida crashed through a video store, injuring 2 teenagers.
Some have started to ask whether we should require all elderly drivers to pass a behind-the-wheel driving test each time they renew their driver licenses. Advocates for the elderly protest this idea, insisting it is unfair to make all elderly drivers submit to the hassle of taking such tests when it is only some elderly drivers who cannot drive safely. They also fear that elderly people who flunk these tests would lose their independence.
In the past, a few political leaders have introduced bills to require tests for elderly drivers. These attempts have been defeated by politicians demanding fairness and independence for the elderly.
This debate inspired me to ask a few questions. Why is it every 16-year-old in California who wants a license must take the behind-the-wheel test? Why is it that even the most competent and responsible 14-year-old is denied a license even if he can pass the behind-the-wheel test? And why is it that the independence of seniors is important enough to allow even dangerous elderly drivers to drive, but the independence of teenagers is not important enough to allow even the safest young drivers to drive?
The elderly are right to say we should not discriminate against drivers on the basis of age. Why not be fair about it? Let's require a driving test for everyone who wants to obtain or renew a driver license, and let's allow everyone an opportunity to take the test. Those who can drive safely should be given licenses. Those who cannot drive safely should be denied licenses. Qualification for the right to drive on our streets should be based on proven safety, not age.
Furthermore, local governments should invest in public transportation so people of all ages can enjoy a fair amount of independence even when they are not fit to drive. There is nothing shameful about being unable to drive safely. There is something shameful about society relegating such people to total dependence on friends and family. And there is something very shameful about society determining who may drive based on age rather than safety.