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Status Report, Vol. 36, No. 8 | SPECIAL ISSUE: OLDER DRIVERS | September 8, 2001 Subscribe

Don’t look for screening tests to make a big difference

There's a longstanding debate about whether states should be doing more to screen older drivers. Screening for some medical conditions should be feasible — seriously deteriorated vision, for example. But more general screening of driving ability isn't likely to make any significant difference.

Researcher John Eberhard says he has "not yet seen any test that is sufficiently valid to fairly identify the at-risk driver."

Despite decades of research, no screening tests for driving abilities have been developed that are sensitive enough to accurately identify the people who will crash without falsely identifying other drivers who won't. As Eberhard explains, "it's very difficult to predict such rare events as traffic crashes. Some investigators claim that we would have to take over 500 drivers off the road to prevent one crash."

Taking away someone's license without solid evidence of a problem "isn't a decision to be taken lightly," adds Susan Ferguson, Institute senior vice president for research. "For many older adults, their licenses are synonymous with freedom."

The licensing agencies in most states treat older drivers the same as drivers of other ages. A number of states have shorter renewal cycles for older drivers and may require an in-person appearance to renew after a specified age. Illinois and New Hampshire require drivers 75 and older to re-take the on-road driving test. A few states including California, Florida, and Maryland are studying the possibility of screening tests.

"Many older drivers already screen themselves to some extent," Ferguson says. "They tend to modify driving habits in response to their reduced abilities — driving less at night and avoiding congested traffic, for example."

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