Do senior drivers have license to kill?
I was almost 30 years old when I got my driver’s license. I failed the test three times, so I was envious of those who passed on their first try. Even on my fourth attempt, I barely passed. It would have taken me longer if the road test had been required, as it is today. My wife learned to drive much later than I, but got the license on her first try. “It may be in the DNA,” she boasted.
Maybe so, but her father took the test seven times before succeeding on his eighth try and along the way had to pay for damage he caused to equipment at the test site. When I reminded my wife of this, she chalked up her father’s test woes to his age. Fortunately, my father-in-law has not had an accident in 20 years.
At the age of 98, Park Gi-jun of Gongju, North Chungcheong, set a record as the oldest man to obtain a driver’s license in Korea. He passed the written test and course test in July and the road test three months later. He said he was happy that he would be able to drive his 96-year-old wife to the clinic when she had leg pain. An increasing number of seniors are obtaining driver’s licenses. Two years ago, Cha Sa-sun, 71, made news by getting a license on her 960th try. In 2000, only 1.6 percent of Koreans aged 65 or over had a driver’s license; today, more than 7 percent do.
In the United States, you simply cannot live without driving. Senior citizens drive their own cars to go to the bank and shop for groceries, and their presence on the road increases the risk for everyone. A few months ago, a 104-year-old driver struck 11 people, including children, in Los Angeles. And a few years ago, an 86-year-old man drove his car right into an outdoor market, killing 10 people.
In Korea, the number of traffic accidents involving senior drivers is increasing. According to the Korea Transportation Safety Authority, 605 people have been killed in traffic accidents by drivers over age 65. That is three times more than 10 years ago. Vision declines with age, and older people are not as alert when driving at night or for long distances. Their response is slower, so it takes them longer to brake and identify and avoid objects.
While the authorities are considering reinforcing aptitude test requirements for senior drivers or encouraging them to voluntarily give up their licenses, many might consider that unconstitutional discrimination. Many seniors living in rural area must rely on their cars to visit clinics or go shopping, and that should be taken into consideration.
Lately, I try not to drive if I can avoid it. I use public transportation whenever possible and walk short distances. It may be inconvenient, but if you make up your mind to live a bit slower, you can minimize driving.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Bae Myung-bok