Really Young, Really Drunk Or Over 80!
Let me once again venture where angels fear to tread.
Yesterday afternoon, observers near the airport watched an Oldsmobile leave Layton Avenue, drive through a security fence and enter the grounds of MItchell International Airport. The car started spinning around in circles on the grass and then drove onto a service road. The vehicle apparently blew a tire but continued moving until stopped by Milwaukee County Sheriff's Deputies. Thankfully, the car was forced to halt before it reached any of the runways.
The 82 year-old driver of the car says that she "knew something was wrong" but was unaware that she was driving on airport grounds! She blamed the incident on heavy rain - which made it more difficult to see.
I understand that it's sometimes hard to see in heavy rain but, for the love of god, how can you leave the road, crash through a fence, do wheelies on the grass, drive onto an airport service road, blow a tire - and still keep driving?
When I first heard the story, I figured that the driver would fall into one of three categories: a young kid out joyriding, a drunk, or someone over 80. BIngo!
Situations like this are, unfortunately, becoming more common. For example, earlier this month, an 87-year-old man drove away apparently unaware that he had struck a Racine Police officer as the officer was picking up traffic cones. It doesn't appear the guy had malicious intent, he just didn't realize that he had hit someone!
In Wisconsin, most drivers are only required to renew their drivers licenses and take a vision test every eight years. This means that if you get your license renewed at the age of 78, you won't have to go for another vision test until you're 86 - unless (as a practical matter) you're involved in a collision. How absolutely insane is that!
The reality is that our skills atrophy as we get older. That's why you don't see a lot of 45 year olds playing professional basketball. Moreover, the older you get, the more your skills deteriorate. It's unfortunate - but it's life.
For the last several years, the Wisconsin Legislature has been considering requiring people over the age of 75 to renew their drivers licenses more frequently. The legislation would also require road tests for people above the age of 85. Unfortunately, at least so far, the legislation has gone nowhere.
That's really too bad.
I understand that seniors vote in disproportionate numbers. Therefore doing anything which could potentially upset a large voting bloc is politically risky. At the same time, this is a public safety matter.
For many older drivers, extra vision tests will pose no problem at all. As for those who can't pass the vision tests, well, they shouldn't be driving in the first place. Beyond this, we shouldn't have to wait for such a motorist to actually pull her Oldsmobile into the path of a plane (or a small child) before we get her off the road.
We have a graduated license system for very young drivers. There's no reason not to have something similar for the very oldest drivers. Political concerns notwithstanding, it's simply the right thing to do.