26 of 218 DOCUMENTS

	The Boston Herald

	July 22, 2009 Wednesday  

	Old drivers put to unfair test



	LENGTH: 612 words

	Almost every summer we create an epidemic which dominates public
	opinion as well as media coverage.
	During the 1990s, pit bulls were reportedly attacking humans in record
	numbers - but only in June and July; more recently it was reported
	that numerous children were being abducted by strangers - but only
	dur-ing the summmer months. By September, newscasters and talk show
	hosts found something else to exag-gerate.
	This summer's epidemic consists of an outbreak of older drivers who
	have committed serious auto acci-dents. In the last few weeks, for
	example, a 92-year-old Reading man backed his car into his wife,
	killing her; an 88-year-old Canton woman fatally struck a 4-year-old
	girl in Stoughton; and a 93-year-old man drove his car into a Danvers
	Wal-Mart, injuring three people. 
	It is true that older drivers have been responsible for several deadly
	accidents this summer, but so were younger drivers. Just as we focused
	only on deadly attacks by pit bulls rather than other breeds, just as
	we downplayed the numerous parents who abducted their own children
	during custody battles, so we now con-centrate only on dangerous
	drivers over the age of 70.
	In so doing, we ignore the 53-year-old resident of West Dennis who, on
	June 11, was charged with motor vehicle homicide. Or the 29-year-old
	Chicopee man who seriously injured a Springfield boy on a bicycle. Or
	the 52-year-old Cheshire woman whose car hit and killed a 90-year-old
	man outside of a Pittsfield restaurant. Or the 18-year-old Saugus man
	allegedly driving home drunk who struck and killed a woman walking her
	dog. Or the 21-year-old Bourne man whose car hit a tree, taking the
	life of his passenger.
	Headlines hardly ever place a driver who causes a deadly accident in
	an age category. Unless a driver is at least 70 years old, his or her
	age is viewed as irrelevant. It would, therefore, appear foolish for a
	headline to read: ``Middle-aged man has deadly accident'' or ``Young
	adult driver injures three.''
	When a 75-year-old has a serious accident, however, the assumption is
	that his or her advanced age was responsible. ``Elderly driver
	indicted.'' ``Elderly hubby's license revoked.'' ``Elderly driver
	cited in Wal-Mart crash.''
	The use of the term ``elderly'' or ``senior'' represents more than a
	description. It also provides an expla-nation for the driver's
	dangerous behavior. The assumption is that he or she is in a period of
	physical and intellectual decline, perhaps a victim of senility, and
	therefore lacking in the sound judgment or fast reflexes that most
	younger drivers possess.
	Just as I am not suggesting that all pit bulls can be trusted, so I
	understand that certain older people should give up their licenses to
	drive. Yet according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety,
	20-year-old drivers have the largest number of fatal crashes per
	100,000 people. Ironically, it is drivers over the age of 85 who have
	the LOWEST rate of fatal accidents. Older drivers tend to drive fewer
	miles than their younger counterparts, which explains their lower
	involvement in fatalities. But they also travel less on high-ways and
	more on crowded city streets, where fatal accidents are more likely to
	occur. Moreover, the fragility of many drivers older than 75 explains
	why they are especially prone to be killed in accidents.
	Perhaps we should upgrade our driving tests so that drivers new to the
	roads, often in their teens or early 20s and most accident-prone, are
	actually required to learn the rules of the road. Then, we might also
	ask their grandparents to take a road test every few years.
	Jack Levin is co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and
	Conflict at Northeastern University.

	LOAD-DATE: July 22, 2009