The following editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star on Friday, June 20:

Government and private groups are focusing more attention on the difficult question of when elderly drivers should give up their licenses. For everyone’s safety, the issue needs study.

The American Medical Association plans to issue guidelines in July that will help physicians know when their older patients have become risky drivers. The idea is not just to persuade these drivers to get off the road but to get them help and training so they can continue to drive safely if possible.

The federal government has allocated $1.6 million to start a National Older Drivers Research Center, operated by the University of Florida and the American Occupational Therapy Association. It will train “certified driving rehabilitation specialists” to screen older drivers and help sharpen their skills – or persuade them to quit.

American society is highly mobile, but public transportation options often are quite limited. So cars represent freedom, especially to seniors, who don’t want to depend on others for errands such as grocery shopping.

However, studies show that older drivers can lose agility and mental response time and that leads to accidents. The National Institute on Aging estimates that by 2030, 25 percent of all drivers will be older than 65. And the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that 25 percent of all fatal traffic crashes will involve drivers 65 or older by that same year.

Drivers between 70 and 74 are twice as likely to die in accidents as are drivers ages 30 to 59. The risk escalates even faster for people 80 and older.

Some states have recognized the aging driving population and have installed road signs that use a more reflective background and bigger lettering. That’s helpful but not a complete answer.

Car manufacturers also can help by offering seat-belt and air-bag systems that don’t do as much damage to older bones. Older drivers can help, too, by limiting driving to daytime periods – and not rush hours – and by avoiding the distractions of car radios and phones.

States also should review policies that say when drivers must take road tests. The goal should not be to penalize people for getting older but to make sure they make driving as safe as possible.

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