Elderly drivers present challenges to their own families as well as to the health and safety of other drivers. Too many people wrestle with the delicate issue of either convincing grandpa or grandma to give up their keys or forcing the issue.
We can appreciate the efforts of Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, to pass a bill that would allow people to anonymously report someone, thereby subjecting them to a battery of tests to determine whether they are fit to drive. He sponsored a similar bill last year, which failed. And while his intentions are good, the bill ought to fail again this year.
Something feels underhanded about empowering people to secretly turn in a loved one or friend. Besides, in many families it would not be too difficult to discern who made the call. A far better solution would be to require yearly driving tests for people 85 and older. If someone younger than that shows signs of mental impairment, family and friends need to have the courage to openly take charge of the situation.
Statistics show that drivers 85 and older are more likely to cause accidents than other drivers even more so than those who are 16 years old. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety attributes this to declining vision, motor skills and perception. When it comes to the youngest of drivers, lawmakers have relied on statistics to write laws that require special restrictions. Teenagers now go through a graduated process to earn their licenses, proving they can safely operate a vehicle. A yearly test of the elderly seems equally prudent, even if it would cost more to provide extra personnel.
Christensen's bill has plenty of safeguards built in. People reporting a bad driver would have to provide their own names to the state, even though that name would not become public. Anyone who makes a report just to annoy or harm someone would be guilty of a class C misdemeanor.
The concern isn't that the bill would lead to abuses. It is that a yearly testing requirement would be more effective.
Even a yearly test would lead to consequences. Elderly people who suddenly can't drive would need transportation. They may be reluctant or too confused to use mass transit.
But the overriding concern must be for public safety. A yearly check would catch more dangerous drivers than would a reliance on anonymous tips.