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Pennsylvania has little oversight over elderly drivers

Americans are living longer than ever, but that does not mean that everyone continues to enjoy good health into their 60s, 70s and 80s. As we age, many of us must live with diminished eyesight, hearing and reflexes. In some cases, people develop terrible illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease, that rob them of their ability to think clearly.

Among other things, the reality of aging can mean that at some point, we can no longer drive safely. Perhaps some of our readers have given up driving, or have had to convince their parents or grandparents to do so. Giving up the car keys is not an easy thing to do, but it is often the safest choice, in order to stop a car accident from happening someday.

This decision often must be voluntary, because the State of Pennsylvania has little control over taking away older drivers’ licenses when they become too infirm to drive. There are 1.5 million licensed drivers in the state who are 65 or older. Meanwhile, PennDOT only randomly selects 1,900 drivers older than 45 for extra testing when they come in for license renewal.

Those people must take a physical and a vision test. If those tests suggest a driver’s abilities might be compromised, he or she will have to take a driving and knowledge test. In addition, doctors who diagnose a patient with something that impairs their driving ability must report that fact to PennDOT.

The issue of elderly drivers on the road became all too real in Pittsburgh recently, when an 88-year-old man crashed into a pregnant woman who was standing next to a pharmacy. The woman was killed; her child was delivered and was in critical condition as of Nov. 28. A relative of the driver reportedly said that he is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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