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Germany

Why Special Driving Tests For Senior Citizen Are Unfair

Young people have far more accidents than the elderly, yet no one is clamoring for greater restrictions to be imposed on them. Why are we singling out senior citizen drivers?

Holding the road in the UK
Holding the road in the UK
Thomas Harloff

MUNICH — It has been three months since Germany's Minister for Transport and Digital Infrastructure Alexander Dobrindt made it clear in an interview with Bild am Sonntag that "mandatory driving tests for senior citizens will not be introduced."

But now it appears that reality has caught up with Dobrindt: The other week, an 84-year-old driver confused his car's accelerator FOR the break, crashing into a café in the Baden-Wurttemberg town of Bad Säckingen. Two people were killed and 13 other café patrons were injured.

What followed was only to be expected. Hardliners demanded a maximum age driving ban, while moderates called for mandatory driving tests and health checks for senior citizens to prevent such atrocities. Both groups believe that politicians, such as Dobrindt, who do not agree with their demands are only afraid of aggravating senior citizen voters, in the same way that automobile clubs are reluctant to annoy paying members.

Those who make such dramatic demands, which would impact the private lives of millions of people, must be able to support their requests with hard data. But the available figures buttress neither the demands of hardliners nor those of moderates: The German Federal Bureau of Statistics published relevant studies in 2014, and despite the fact that people over 65 now constitute 20.8% of the population, only 12.6% of senior citizens are involved in accidents with physical injuries, a percentage that is lower than average among age groups. The risk of a car accident for senior citizens is actually lower than that of the general population seeing as, per 100,000 people, only 283 senior citizens are involved in car accidents, compared with 486 people below retirement age.

Data not slogans

Of course, this has everything to do with senior citizens' significantly reduced, but difficult to measure, ability to drive. As drivers, many of you may have experienced anxious moments caused by a senior citizen behind the wheel. But restricting seniors' freedom of mobility with nasty slogans — and without the support of appropriate statistical data — is going too far. Especially today, when not only are there more senior citizens than ever, but more and more active and agile senior citizens.

There are other statistics to consider, however: When senior citizens are involved in accidents, they are usually at fault, and their risk of dying in a car accident has risen by 20.8% since 1980.

But is that enough to demand the aforementioned sanctions against senior citizens, especially when traffic has become so much more complex since then? Should older people refrain from bicycling in the future because their involvement in bicycle accidents has risen by 67.9%? Where does regulation begin and tolerance end?

Regular medical exams and even driving tests may, of course, be a very sensible notion, especially since senior citizens have a much lower chance of surviving car accidents, statistically speaking, than those below the age of 65. But such exams and tests should only happen on a voluntary basis. Attractive and favourably-priced offers for check-ups — which usually cost a few hundred euros — that do not have the goal of depriving senior citizens of their mobility, are far more important than stiff and exclusive regulations. Senior citizens should be included and integrated into the increasingly complex world of traffic in a sensible manner.

According to a Dekra study, a majority of people over 60 actually support the proposed health checks. Their reputation for obstinacy is apparently giving way to a much more realistic self-awareness, considering that many senior citizens no longer want to drive until the day they die.

And in considering the most recent, tragic incident, it's important to keep in mind that this was an exceptional occurrence — unlike all the so-called "nightclub accidents" that take place every weekend, and are often just as lethal as the accident in Bad Säckingen.

The only difference is that in response to those sad events, no one calls for stricter regulations to be imposed on 18- to 24-year-olds, who have the highest accident rate of any group.

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