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Older Americans and teens have something in common: Bad driving

An accident in Sacramento raises an interesting public policy issue: driving privileges for the elderly. A 94-year-old man approached a drive-through car wash and apparently mistook the gas pedal for the brake on his sedan. The car blew through the car wash, taking out a good deal of equipment as it went.

The incident was recorded by a surveillance camera, so it is possible to watch it over and over again. Auto World News reports that the video quickly went viral. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the manager estimates that property damage could run as high as $100,000. Immediately following the accident, the driver said he believed insurance would cover it.

We have talked about California’s graduated driver’s license program before (see the most dangerous time of the year for teen drivers). The limitations allow new teen drivers to gain experience and confident behind the wheel before they tackle the riskier driving situations.

The limitations were not pulled out of thin air. For example, teen drivers are not allowed to drive with passengers under 20-years-old in the vehicle unless there is also a licensed driver age 25 or older in the vehicle. The rule and others like it across the country are based on research showing that teens are particularly susceptible to distractions. Studies of the human brain have concluded that we undergo significant changes during our teen years. We become more risk averse, less impulsive. By the time we reach 25, our brains have matured.

For the Governors Highway Safety Association, the greatest risk to teen drivers is the combination of inexperience and immaturity. The GHSA and safety advocates warn, however, that maturity and experience cannot make up for slower reaction times, memory problems and other issues that come with old age.

The GHSA has a wonderful turn of phrase when discussing elderly drivers: “More and more Americans are outliving their ability to drive safely,” the website says. The organization also points out that state legislatures are adopting laws to address the problem.

We will get into more detail in our next post.


Auto World News, “uick Quack Car Wash Crash Goes Viral,” Mercuro, Jan. 15, 2015

Governors Highway Safety Association, “Mature Driver Laws,” January 2015

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