Putting the brakes on the Boston Globe's demonization of older drivers

In Newspaper nonsense on elderly drivers I berated the Boston Globe for its weird fixation on elderly drivers as doers of evil who need to be clamped down on. Since then, the Globe has continued this odd focus, most recently with an October 4 editorial calling for older drivers to undergo mandatory road tests to keep their licenses.

The Globe’s attention would be more understandable if elderly drivers were in fact a menace, but the facts are as follows (see How to mislead with statistics):

  • Despite all the press attention (hello Globe!) elderly drivers don’t crash a lot compared with other age groups
  • Elderly people in crashes are more likely to die –because they are old and frail, not because their crashes are more severe
  • The percentage of crashes involving elderly drivers is actually decreasing over time

It looks like I’m not the only one who takes issue with the Globe on this topic. Sunday’s Globe has four well-reasoned letters criticizing the editorial. (See Putting the brakes on elderly drivers.) They repeat some of my points above and add other good ones:

  • The Globe is promoting ageism by arguing for restrictions on the elderly based on stereotypes and anecdotes rather than objective research
  • There’s no evidence that road tests will really predict who will be involved in crashes
  • A bill pending in the legislature would provide immunity to any physician or law enforcement agent who reported an unsafe elderly driver (as the writer points out this would apply even to pediatricians and others with no special knowledge of the elderly). This could lead to elder abuse and intimidation
  • Seniors will be inconvenienced, embarrassed, and humiliated by the road tests. Since 90 percent pass anyway, is it reasonable to subject them all to this requirement?

I hope the Globe writers and editorialists will read these letters and lay off.

October 13, 2009

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