At what age should we hit the brakes?

Elderly people are more likely to suffer from health conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and blurred vision, which can indirectly cause a road accident.

– Datuk Azisman Alias, Bukit Aman Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department director

So, the police have proposed restrictions on driving licences for senior citizens? I believe it’s not a blanket restriction on the elderly people; therefore, do not be quick on the draw and vilify our law enforcers.

Let’s create a scenario in the event the government decides to impose numerous conditions on senior citizens above 65 to stop them from driving.

Say, Manja and his wife Sonia, both in their sixties, are compelled by law to surrender their driving licences. Their children are no longer staying with them and are in different parts of the state.

Suddenly, one day Manja has a heart attack. The nearest medical facility is 10 kilometres away. Sonia is now desperate for transport to rush her better half to the hospital. She had surrendered her licence to the authorities, but even if she has to run foul of the law and drive, she can’t for they have disposed of the only car they had. 

Of course, she can call a Grab, but vital minutes will be wasted by the time the Grab chap arrives. Run to the nearest neighbour, but they are out working.

Then, the ambulance is the last resort. But knowing how the system works in this country, by the time the ambulance fellas arrive, Manja would have long gone to meet his maker. 

Well, it’s just a hypothetical scenario. But it could well happen soon if our so-called caring government goes ahead with the police proposal.

Bukit Aman Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department director Deputy Comm Datuk Azisman Alias recently came up with the suggestion because he felt that the poor state of health of the elderly drivers could contribute to road accidents and therefore, they should undergo mandatory medical check-ups to ascertain their fitness to be on the road.

I can’t be certain if Azisman was relying on statistics when he made the proposal or it was an off-the-cuff remark. These days we often have to put up with government officers — politicians included — saying something embarrassing or wrong!

The Sarawak Gerontology and Geriatrics Society was among the first groups to voice out, arguing that the restrictions would be unfair to elderly drivers as there are no concrete statistics to conclude that senior citizens are among the main contributors to road accidents.

Said the society: “We believe most road accidents are caused by young people driving recklessly, overtaking along narrow roads, speeding or beating traffic lights or even when they are drunk.

“We also feel that it is too much to single out senior citizens to undergo medical check-ups and get the doctor’s confirmation of their health conditions before they can be issued with the licences.”

Azisman had also argued that it would be impractical for senior citizens aged 70 and above to renew their driving licences for a five-year period. Perhaps, he might be right there. Get these people to renew their licences on a yearly basis.

Now, I would like to present my own views. I notice most senior citizens drive as safely as anyone else. Only a few bad apples — especially those despite their poor vision or dementia condition — make mistakes and contribute to the statistics showing that they are almost as dangerous as teenagers.

Those with mild dementia are at a substantially higher risk for unsafe driving, and thus should strongly consider discontinuing driving. These are the people who pose a risk to other road users! Not the general senior citizens who might be enjoying good health. Depriving them from driving is cruel.

Not being able to drive can lead to isolation and a host of other problems. Driving is an important way for older adults to remain independent and mobile. Without a car, they can grow isolated and depressed, and their physical and mental health can deteriorate. So forcibly taking away the car keys is wrong.

I believe driving is about the ability and health of the driver, not their age. It should be your ability to handle the car and drive safely. Being in the sixties or seventies isn’t what it used to be, because people are getting more active and living longer than previous generations.

Instead of putting major restrictions on senior citizens, the authorities could introduce several advanced technologies — collision warning systems and rear-view cameras for example — to help seniors drive safely.

Before the government introduces any legislation to take certain groups of senior citizens off the road, it should consider the following:

• How does ageing affect one’s ability to drive?

• Do elderly drivers pose a risk to society and to themselves? How do they compare to other age groups?

• Will licence restrictions minimise the risks to road users in general?

• Will putting the brakes on elderly drivers have a negative impact on them?

The Road Transport Department and the police should consider these points, among others.

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