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TALK RADIO: Do We Need Restrictions for Elderly Drivers?

On September 21, 2011 Seattle personal injury attorney Chris Davis was featured on KOMO Newsradio with Ken Schram to discuss the complexities of the dangers presented by senior citizens behind the wheel.

Full transcription of Mr. Davis's quotes:

Thanks for having me, Ken. Absolutely, I think you know one of the first questions that we need to answer is you know, how do we define elderly at what age do we determine someone that might have issues related to that age that might render that person an unsafe driver. And then two, how do we in fact legislate or regulate those people if it’s determined that the additional regulation is needed to prevent these types of accidents that are being caused by elderly drivers.

Absolutely, and I have to preface this topic by, by telling you if you look at the statistics in Washington state alone. The DOT for Washington keeps track of these numbers and if you look at 2010 and if you look at the fatality and serious accident cases, only about six percent of those accidents were caused by elderly people defined as 75 years and older. By the same comparison, individuals who are 25 years and younger, 16-25 age group are responsible for about 36 percent of these types of serious accident cases.

So getting back to your question you know it really comes down to how do we define who is elderly and who is not. Right now in Washington state, your driver’s license only has to be renewed every five years. For somebody that turns age 65, that renewal has to occur in person. But the 65-year-old does not have to retake a driving test unless there’s some medical issue.

So perhaps if we were to agree on an age that we could define as elderly drivers, as far as regulation, you know I would suggest perhaps at some point perhaps at age 75- or 80-years-old require the renewal process to occur maybe year. Or perhaps have that person’s medical doctor sign off on a clearance that the person is safe to drive those would be good suggestions in my view.

It also has to be balanced as you said earlier with the important concern of not unnecessarily restricting somebody’s right to drive. And I think we’ve all seen people in their 70s and 80s who appear healthy and robust and so forth. So again how do you balance those two countervailing concerns.

I agree with that Ken, but if you're talking about, let’s say, a 75-year-old who's had a perfect driving record and then just automatically arbitrarily say 'hey, your driving privileges need to be restricted because you turned this age,' I think that’s unduly harsh.

I think you’ve got to consider other factors involved here. Even though driving is a privilege, when it comes to taking away that privilege or severely restricting I think we have to balance the concerns of that individual. That’s an excellent question I think there are several groups that probably would need to be consulted not the least of which would need to be the legislative body.

I think also the medical community, we should ask them for their input on you know at what point at what age do people begin to lose their physical capability significantly to the point where driving is going to be a dangerous activity. I think we need to talk to lawyer makers about how we draft and implement any type of restriction. I think your going to get a number of different view points on the age range that needs to occur before some sort of restriction occurs and I’ve heard people say 60, 65 on the low end and I’ve heard people say 85 on the high end.

There’s got to be a point where most of us would agree that at some age, that at your renewal process becomes a little more restrictive or that a medical clearance is going to be required by the doctor. But as far as how all these changes are going to be implemented that’s a great question.

Thanks, Ken!