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How Old is Too Old To Drive? – Elderly Drivers in NJ [SERIES]

This is part one of a week-long, five-part series during which Kelly Waldron will delve into the controversial issue of senior driving. From recognizing the warning signs to having difficult conversations to taking away the keys and finding alternate transportation, it’s an important issue that plagues many families across New Jersey, one of which will share their very personal story.

Senior citizens represent about 17 percent of the driving population in New Jersey and while many are still very active and able to get behind the wheel with no problem, there are others who are literally taking a risk every time they get in their car and hit the road. People are living longer and are staying healthier longer, so one active 65 year old may be completely different than another. What can the state do in terms of driver testing?

(Flickr: Mikecogh)
(Flickr: Mikecogh)

“We have an aging population and the fact is that a 65-year-old isn’t necessarily considered a senior anymore. We have very active 65-year-olds and very active 75-year-olds and 85-year-olds. They are commuting. They are transporting themselves. But, at the end of the day, having a driver’s license is a very personal responsibility and it needs to be taken seriously, whatever your age,” said Chairman and Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission Ray Martinez. “When you get behind the wheel, you have to make sure that you’re comfortable, that you aren’t impaired in any way and that you are able to drive for your own safety, the safety of your passengers and for those who share the road with you.”

“Governments have struggled with this issue for a very long time because It’s very difficult to set an arbitrary age when everyone has to be retested,” said Martinez. “It would not only be difficult to implement, but it could also be very unfair because what indicators are you looking for to see whether an individual of whatever age is still able to have their license? We rely upon the obvious indicators here at the Motor Vehicle Commission. Have they been in an accident? Have they gotten numerous tickets? These are just some of the questions. But, it still comes down to personal responsibility. Am I able to drive?”

“It’s important for people to be in tune with their bodies. They should be getting their eyesight checked annually. But it’s not only about eyes, it’s also about reflexes and about cognitive ability. That doesn’t only affect seniors though. That speaks to every driver on the road, and again, the reason setting an arbitrary age can be so difficult,” said Martinez.

He adds, “It’s also the reason we’re going to be reaching out to the senior population across the state in a very positive way. We’re partnering with a number of state agencies, law enforcement and medical professionals and we’ll be going to senior communities across New Jersey to provide educational forums. The idea is to help people keep their driver’s licenses as long as they possibly can as long as it is safe. We will provide tips and information on things they can look for and be aware of and we’ll also answer any questions they may have.”

“Basically what it comes down to is, if you’re a good, capable and experienced driver and you’re safe for yourself and for everyone else, then you should and can keep your license. But, it’s important to make sure you’re safe,” said Martinez. “The idea is to keep it positive and to keep drivers self-evaluating.”

The kick-off event of Wisdom Behind the Wheel will take place on August 15, 2012 at 55 Kip Center in Rutherford from 11:30-12:30. Representatives from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, the State Department of Transportation, the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, AAA and the medical community will take part.

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