Driving Tests for Everyone, Regularly

Here's a short proposal that would automatically reduce the number of drivers, make our streets and highways safer and less congested, increase demand for mass transit services and save lots of energy along the way.

Written and practical driving tests every 5 years for all licenced automobile drivers regardless of age. Examinations will also be required within one month of any traffic incident* that results in a personal injury.

This idea is loosely based on yesterday's NY Times opinion piece by Andrew Haas, who was hit by an elderly driver while riding his bike and severely injured.

Here was the result of the traffic incident*:
In the year since the accident, I have learned to walk again. The Ironman, however, is well beyond my ability. I cannot run down the block without serious pain, especially in my pelvis. Professionally, I missed almost a year of work, which forced me to restart my orthopedic surgery practice from scratch. I have a long way to go before I regain even a semblance of my former life.

But the driver who hit me has scarcely been inconvenienced. He was charged with failure to yield and issued a $128 fine. He is permitted to drive without restrictions and without any assessment of his competence. In all probability, he has had no legally mandated driver training since he received his driver's license more than half a century ago.

And this type of incident happens everyday. Here was his original proposal:

Given their great, and frequently proven, capacity to do harm, drivers should be required to take a continuing driver education course every 10 years.

Special emphasis should be placed on elderly drivers. Motor-vehicle injuries are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among 65- to 74-year-olds and are the second leading cause, after falls, among 75- to 84-year-olds. Older drivers have a higher fatality rate per mile driven than any age group except drivers under 25. The American Medical Association estimates that as the population of the United States ages, drivers aged 65 and older will eventually account for 25 percent of all fatal crashes.

What I liked even better than his opinion piece, were the letters to the editor that all concurred with his basic premise.

This was typical:

Anyone who feels confident in his driving ability should be willing to put it to the test.

Perhaps organizations like AARP could help by advocating similar requirements.

I would suggest that older drivers, most of whom I expect are reasonable people, could lobby their states and organizations to adopt licensing laws that would make tragedies like Dr. Haas's accident much less likely.

Robert Gelman
Ann Arbor, Mich., July 17, 2006

But this was the one that caught my eye and prompted this post:

I agree that people -- all people -- should be certified every five years. In fact, I would recommend recertification more often -- every two years.

But recertification is only part of the problem. The lack of public transportation is of greater importance.

Our society is willing to put billions into improving highways and streets, but it is loath to put money into improved public transportation.

Adequate public transportation would reduce the number of elderly drivers. As it stands now, an automobile is a necessity if one wants to go to the doctor's or the grocery store.
Harry E. Berndt
Webster Groves, Mo., July 17, 2006

We have created a society in which most people outside major urban centers like New York, Chicago, Boston (and yes Alan, New Orleans) do not have adaquate alternative transportation options for obtaining basic needs like food and medicine. This is because our many of our nation's communities are not walkable to grocery stores or pharmacies.

Removing unfit, unsafe and reckless drivers from the road might be the easiest way to dramatically increase demand for mass transit while also encouaging carpooling and more village centered planning and re-zoning.

*Because of rampant misuse in the media of the word "accident" when they report on anything related to injuries or deaths from cars hitting pedestrians, cyclists or other cars, I have decided to conciously start using the more neutral word "incident" which does not let the motorist off casually by labeling it an unavoidable mistake.

Great post.  When I was younger (and more ignorant), I used to ride my bike to school and work every day.  Now that I'm older and wiser, I realize that doing so in the current road environment in America today is taking my life in my hands.  (I don't feel that safe in my car, either.)

While it would be good to have grave penalties for drivers after they've killed, we also need serious penalties for those who engage in dangerous behavior, and who therefore, statistically, will eventually kill someone.  In my mind, a minimum of a month's gross salary and a one-month license revocation would be appropriate for a first offense.

Things won't improve until we get serious about this.

This paper calculates that there is a net increase in life expectancy biking, even given the national accident stats:


FWIW, the stat given is that the U.S. suffers 72 fatalities per billion kilometers while biking, versus 6 fatalities per billion kilometers in cars.

Given the generally shorter mileage covered each year on a bike, that seems like good odds ... even car vs. bike.

(as always your neighborhood matters more than the national stats.)

Here's my issues with this.  For one the licensing offices in my state are owned by cronies of the governor.  So these guys pratically print money.  There are fees on top of fees.  I don't mind paying some coin for the right to drive, but it shouldnt be going into a guys pocket.  I like the German approach to driving.  Lots and lots of practice and it COSTS a lot of money to drive.  Therefore the drivers tend to want to drive and thus learn.  The german drivers are second to none!

I only need to renew my license every 10 yrs!  People respond to cash demands, so make em pay up to drive.

I've seen several cars flipped over on the autobahn.  I'm not really convinced Germans are somehow superior drivers compared to other nations.  
Well, yes and no.

The no part first - the people who drive are just humans, with all the flaws we all know too well. In my opinion, Germans are not better drivers, except for the points which follow in the yes section.

Yes, they are better, but for different reasons -

  1. A significant percentage of Germans don't have driver licenses - among this percentage are most likely to be people who shouldn't be driving anyways.
  2. Germans receive all kinds of training, in grade school, about how to ride a bicycle safely in traffic - though not quite as extensive as American high school driver's ed, it does have both a class room and a range component, maybe 5 hours or so of each, taught by the police (there are police officers whose sole job it is to teach these classes).
  3. It costs a lot of money (easily above $2,000) to get a license, and the driving test itself is 45 minutes to an hour long - and yes, people fail it quite regularly, and you have to wait a month before retaking it. The written test is multiple choice - and German multiple choice is interesting - all answers listed can be false, all can be true, or any combination in between - it isn't possible to pick the most likely one as a simple test beating strategy.
  4. Your license is a privilege that the state will happily take away - 3 months for running a red light, for example. Getting your license back takes considerable time and money.
  5. In the case listed above, the driver would have been charged with a felony (causing injury, basically), and their insurance (or themselves) would be responsible for all costs - for example, all lost income from his medical practice.

I have never actually seen a flipped car on the autobahn (a few times on other roads) - but some of the scrap metal produced is spectacular, until you think about what the people inside probably ended up as.

Actually, since I grew up and drive with a more or less American attitude, I generally let my wife drive in a German town or city - here, people on foot or bicycles are actually part of the traffic mix, and they actually act as if the car drivers will act that way. Partially because if the car drivers don't, they will be hunted down as dangerous criminals - which they are, of course. Since there basically is no reason to drive here (who cares if you need to get to work after you killed a child on a bicycle), losing your license is a matter of a few minutes for a police officer at the side of the road, and not a major court proceeding (I have read/been told - no personal experience there).

By the way, riding a motorcycle is not a problem - it is a different set of skills in most ways, along with the lack of blind spots and smaller size.

I am reluctant to accept the statistics from Grist above.

How many of the so-called "bike accidents" are actually caused by cars?  Also, how many happen when people are mountain or sport biking?

It seems to me that the "per billion kilometers" numbers are just WAGs even though some people may believe them to be actually descriptive of reality.

Also, I think there are a number of other questions to ask, as I've already noted.

Safe biking is possible -- I do it all the time.  Of course, I drive a pedalable "Hummer." (OrganicEngines SUV)

Safe driving is never, ever possible.

Every time we turn the key to start a fossil fuel burner, we are killing people and other creatures and poisoning the planet.

If that is not the antithesis of safety, than what is?

Also: every time one starts a fossil fuel burning engine, it is the moral and aesthetic equivalent of french kissing Dick Cheney....and then GW....and then Kenny Lay....and then... well, you get the picture!

The numbers apparently come from "Pucher and Dijkstra. 2003. Promoting safe walking and cycling to improve public health: lessons from the Netherlands and Germany. American Journal of Public Health. 93(9): 1509-1516."

I'd be interested in other estimates, but it sounds a little different when we say they are from the "American Journal of Public Health" than just "Grist." ;-)

i rode bicycles to school and college and my work from ages seven to sixty-one, when I retired. Now I ride more than ever and have accumulated more than 100,000 miles of accident-free bike riding. To tell the whole truth, I have never even had a close call.

My insight and tactics:

  1. be paranoid.
  2. Be much more totally paranoic, because they are out to get you.
  3. Realize that half of the drivers are impaired by drugs, alcohol, cell phones or are undergoing car-jacking, and a few are having fatal heart attacks as they realize they just killed that little kid who ran out in the road and is looking at her body and not your bike.
  4. Study bicycle riding from expert survivors.
  5. Ride motorcycles and experience even more malice and evil and danger from cars.

For some reason, big trucks are often kind to bicyclists.
Some school-bus drivers are very bad, but most are good.

  1. Keep your eyes moving: They can come at you from any direction.

  2. Increase paranoia to just barely below the point that the men with white coats takes you away to the rubber room.

  3. Practice panic stops.

  4. Always be mentally prepared to dump your bike in a ditch and take a broken bone rather than instant death.

  5. Do not bike unfamiliar routes except under ideal conditions. Familiarity with route is a HUGE safety factor.

  6. Helmets are good. I have been known to wear motorcycle body armor while on a pedal bike under circumstances where I thought ultra caution was called for.

  7. Stay on the trail. Ride on grass or sidewalks if that is safer in a particular situation. (I always have fat tires.)

  8. Ride an extra couple of miles if the longer route is safer.

  9. Don't ride too fast. Don't ride when very tired or emotionally upset. Do not carry your cell phone with you, or if you MUST, then turn it off until your bike is locked up and put away.

  10. If you can remember license numbers, report dangerous drivers; I've done this several times and have always gotten good feedback from the police. In one case my complaint triggered a huge drug bust.
Great list. I would add

16. Be assertive when it comes to your safety. Don't do anything dangerous for others' convenience.

I learnt this the stupid way about a week ago when I tried to jump with my bike over a gardening hose laid across my path, so as not to piss off the gardener standing nearby. I fell very quickly, onto concrete, and hit my knee pretty hard. Nothing broken, fortunately, but I will be unable to fully load my right leg for a few weeks.

Had I just ridden over the damn thing the worst thing that could have happened was hearing a few curses from the gardening dude. On the other hand, I could have stopped the bike, picked it up, stepped over the hose and hopped on the bike again. That would have been both safe and considerate. Next time I'll do it... NOT :-)

You can shorten this list considerably.  In decending order of importance:

  1. Read Effective Cycling by John Forester.

  2. Take a League of American Bicyclists Road I course.

  3. Obey the laws.  Particularly the parts about never biking against traffic and using headlights in the dark and during precipitation.

  4. Avoid biking when and where drunks might be present.

  5. Be extra careful in intersections.

  6. When possible, live in a community where there are lots of other cyclists.

I've found that most large truck drivers are decent about passing safely because they have extra training and experience, know how big their truck is, and know that they may lose their job if they get complaints.
 I ride my motorcycle with the assumption that everyone is trying to kill me. Not that other drivers are simply incompetent but actually trying to kill me. I think it helps me maintain a high level of situational awareness.
I always assume I am completely invisible when walking or driving anything. Some days on my commute seem to be "National Idiots Day", days when all the idiots try to drive. It turns out that in many social situations I am so invisible that the Pentagon would be envious if I built a plane so invisible. On a "National Idiots Day" I'm more invisible than the F-117A stealth plane.

I would really hate to be on a bicycle on National Idiots Day.

I once made the mistake of riding Merrimon Ave. here which few cyclists do because of its reputation, because it was going to save me a gazillion miles.  I found myself doing about 40 mph uphill on someone's bumper, with someone else nipping at my back tire just to keep from turning into a pancake.  After I turned off of it, it was like night and day.  One road makes a difference.  Fortunately there are a lot of nice, lightly traveled roads around here.

The big trucks are a lot more courteous, curiously enough.  It might just be that passing a bicycle is a lot more dangerous a proposition for them because they have to take up much more road, accelerate and stop more slowly, and have worse visibility.  I generally pay them back by getting off the road when I can, and generally try to do so when I can hear them approaching.

Though you take a substantial speed hit, riding a mountain bike, with fat - hybrid type tires, seems to substantially increase your likelyhood to survive.  When I ride my skinny tired bike, I have to avoid patches of gravel and going off the road is practically not an option.  But with the fat tires on the mountain bike, taking an excursion off road is about as hair raising a proposition as cereal in the morning.

I find it curious that you didn't include:

  • - if you have a train of cars building behind you, pull over and let them go

  • - if riding with a partner, ride one in front of the other rather than side by side

  • - don't take up the whole road

Extending courtesy to the drivers behind you is also quite important.  Even I have wanted to run people over for riding side by side and down the middle of the road, and it makes it more dangerous for all involved when passing.
Commercial Pilots That Fly Scheduled Service must pass a simulator check ride every six months.

Maybe the drivers license should be renewed each year not every five.

I've thought of the political correctness of requiring certain groups of people such as young males or the old to be subjected to extra testing.  Why not have a graduated scoring scheme on the driving test?  Score 100% and you return in 5 years to do it again.  Score 75% and you're back in 1 year.  Fail and you are required to get retraining on your own time and expense.  Get a ticket for a traffic violation and you go for a test and/or training in addition to the fine.  This gives the elderly some time to come to terms with their deteriorating abilities without having to go cold turkey.  

It relieves the kids of their responsibility (liability, some day) for thier elderly parents' driving.  (And the parents for their kids).

Your idea makes sense. I would like to add this. If convicted of flagrant violations like DUI, drag racing, etc. you lose your license permanently. To take care of cases of no transit a judicial driving permit (after a test again) for a year is granted so the moron can move, change jobs, etc. to use transit or a bicycle or moped at most. A first offense is only needed to invoke the penalty. That'll remove drivers off the road!

With DUI, we are pretty much headed in that direction anyways so as the trend continues you could get your wish! States stiffen DUI penalties all the time as well as other penalties for lesser "movers".

In order to make it effective, you need to be prepared to impose very stiff penalties for operating a motor vehicle without a license. It is routine here to read stories in the papers about accidents involving a driver whose license was already suspended or revoked. In at least some cases, it appears that people will drive, license or not, fines or not, unless they are physically locked up.
Great idea, but I fear it's politically impossible. The demographics are against those of us who want the oldies off the road. We'll be outvoted. In my experience, the (aging) Boomers talk about their car keys the same way Charles Heston talked about his gun:

"You'll have to peel my cold, dead hands from the steering wheel."

Quick! Everybody off the sidewalk!

We can only try. I guess the biggest objection would be that it would cost money, but of course so do traffic injuries and deaths. Even if this only took a few percent off the road, it might safe billions collectively in auto-insurance premiums.
What are the transportation alternatives for those who live in rural America? At the momoent zero. I'm currently planning to move to a county with a population of less than 15,000. There are probably more people living on one block in New York. What works in Manhattan won't work in Podunk.
I've biked the sidewalks of London, the mountain roads with crazy drivers in Jamaica, in San Francisco and Berkeley and Chicago and a whole bunch of other places.

I've bicycled on ice for many miles without a fall, though I do intend to get studded tires for next winter. I bike through forests (on my 1985 Schwinn heavy steel cruiser with over 25,000 miles on it).

Probably I will not live forever, but my guess is that my risks of dying from a heart attack are roughly ten thousand times greater than dying in a bicycle accident.

When I get too old to bicycle, I'm going to get an adult tricycle.

Bikes are nice for the fortunate few with the physical gift of athleticism. The Amish use bikes as well as horse drawn vehicles. An old wheezer like me might learn to use a horse and buggy but when the doctor is 60 miles away I'd still use a car.
The public transit alternative makes no sense in rural areas. Where it has been tried it has been figured it would be cheaper to give the users their own car and pay a neighbor to drive.
In rural areas I guess the main problem is not mass transit, but carpooling. It doesn't help that we don't have multiple generations living together where the older family members could be driven by the younger ones.
Athleticism is one gift that I sorely lack. About the only athletic anything I ever did well was walk fast and until I blew my knee out (torn ACL of course). Now I have limited range at anywhere near my original walking speed. If I ride a bike now it'll need a propulsion system not requiring two good knees.
When and if I lose the use of my legs, I think I'll go to an adult tricycle powered by a 25 c.c. bike motor running on home-brewed ethanol.

Bicycle motors are especially easy to convert to ethanol because they are so small and simple and have few moving parts, a single carb, etc.

I've been thinking about this for years, working on the theory that what I worry about probably will not happen.

One thing's for sure. The fewer moving parts the better. The first thing to fail is a moving part. My laptop is a great example. I have a laptop where BOTH hinges failed and I use a piece of angle-steel to hold up the lid. The two hinges were machined to too-tight tolerances to allow for opening the lid and have it hold itself up - but the plastic didn't hold up to the leverage stresses. Darn. Sooner or later, my laptop will make itself into a modern "Commodore 64" when the lid finishes falling off.

Ever wonder why electric engines last longer than the piston counterpart? It's the moving parts count. An electric engine has two bearings (normally replacable ball bearings) but the piston engine has pistons rubbing on cylinders (ring job) journal-and-sleeve bearings galore (replace the babbit in the sleeves) and so on. And all moving parts need lubrication. Laptop lids are machined so bloody close that they WILL fail just after the warranty.

In the US Navy I worked (and practically lived in) the engineroom of the ship. Lots of those damn moving parts. Navy people are awful careful about lubricating those things, to keep the ship reliable. And I will say this. I will NOT step onto a ship with one engine lest some moving part fails. With a twin engine ship you have the chance to pull up somewhere on the remaining engine. This is from my expierences with those damn moving parts. I had orders to a single-engine ship at one point but decided to stay on the twin-engine ship I already knew becuse of this knowledge of how moving parts fail. I would not want to be stuck in the middle of the Atlantic aboard a broke-dick ship.

A ship on an ocean (or a plane in the air) is not like when a car breaks down. When a car breaks down, it's an inconvience, but a broke-dick ship (or plane) is life or death. The plane case is merely faster in an ocean. But a broke-dick ship can kill you just as good. For those who don't know, watch that flick Titanic. A definite worst-case but it illustrates the life/death bit. Not good.

There is another thingy with design. You want to make your ship (or plane) such that you can steer it somewhat on the remaining engines. That is some redundancy in design. This adds reliabiltity. This way, if an engine fails you can steer but also if the rudder fails you can play with the two engines to steer as you "drive". If both an engine AND the rudder go out you are f@#$ed. But the design lessens the danger of getting f@#$ed.

It would be easy to make a trawler fashing boat with two trolling motors, a GPS gizmo, and a laptop. But if an engine fails and you have no rudder to manually "drive" your boat you will go in circles and waste batteries. Again, not good. A 4-engine boat like that would be better if you go sans rudder to automate its "driving" (presumably to set the autopilot to "drive" as you get schnockered).

Every day doctors talk with family members and tell them it's time to take the keys away from grandpa or grandma because he's not safe behind a wheel. I'm not so sure that expending the effort to get the state to do it is worthwhile. Educating families and voluntary incentives might be more effective.
Families are often too chicken.  I know two grown men who couldn't bring themselves to confront their mothers whose driving was so hazardous it was just a matter of time before a serious accident.  "It's so important to her to be able to drive."  - !!
This will be the biggest problem - It is "so important" to people to "be able" to drive.  There are such strong emotional and cultural attachments to driving, particularly in the older generations, but also in our own among suburbanites and rural folks.

Cars mean independence, power, and remind people of when they were young.  Never forget that every single American driver has gone through the ritual of teenage Driver's Ed and got a car to drive to high school each day.  Even if that's not really true, it's the American ideal.  We're a car nation full of car worshipers.  And the elderly in particular value their independence, for which the American idol is the car.

I think the proposal in the post makes sense and needs to be put forward.  But I do think proponents need to be prepared for incredibly strong, irrational opposition.  It would probably be easiest in denser towns and cities, but then what's the point, if we can't control drivers coming from elsewhere with fewer requirements for licenses?

What you don't see are articles about all the non-elderly dangerous drivers. Politically, this is only OK if it takes somebody else off the road, as the remarks right here about "taking the oldies off the road" amply demonstrate.
To clariy, I think all dangerous drivers should be taken off the road, and agree with regular testing for young and old alike. I simply think that it's the elderly voters who will, by virture of their sheer numbers, make this impossible.
Hmmm...some questions though...

Politically, you can hide, for example, an anti-corporate agenda, behind "safety", because people really want to bash those wicked corporations that tell them they have to get up and go to work in the morning, etc. etc., and after all, bashing them seems cost-free. But do you really think you can hide this much transparent social engineering (forcing people into "villages", etc.) behind "safety"? If your system really disqualifies enough drivers to "reduce traffic congestion" noticeably, you've got an entire army of furious citizens. After all, the ones driving at the highly congested rush hours are mostly the young and middle aged working folks, not the retirees.

So if it were that easy, wouldn't it have happened already? But at prices like $500,000,000 per mile for the LA Red Line, and $<countless billions> bonded over five decades for the nonetheless-unbuilt Second Avenue Subway, how could we ever afford all this "mass transit"?

BTW some of the drivers I worry about the most are the hotshots who wait at an intersection, gaze over to the left waiting for an opening in the traffic, and floor the  pedal when the opening comes without checking anywhere else. (NYC doesn't have right turn on red but it happens at stop signs too.) If you can take care of this sort of stuff by catching people when they are on their best behavior in a driving test, how come so many relatively young, recently qualified drivers do it when they're in a giant hurry out in real life?

Oh, and I had heard that for budgetary reasons, NYC eliminated on-the-road testing even for new drivers, years ago. Is that true?

   I'm 54, and my father will be 81 in August. About 3 years ago his driving had declined to where my sisters and I had a serious concern about his road safety. He was having little wrecks and had become so bad that everyone refused to ride with him.
  First, we tried working with his doctor. The doctor told him to give up driving, he ignored the advice. Houston, his home for all of his adult life doesn't have very good public transportation, but, mostly he did not wish to stop driving.
  Finally we took advantage of a program through the State and snitched him off to the Department of Public Safety. They then sent him a notice to come in for an examination or his license would be suspended. They do this without giving a reason, so we were off the hook as tattle-tales.
  His license was suspended.
  One day I went over and borrowed his car and never brought it back. Kind of chickenshit, but there you are. It worked although he still complains.
  Talking around with friends I have discovered that this is a very common problem. No one wants to admit they have become older and should limit any activity. I don't know that any periodic review would pass at this point, or that it would address the changed circumstances that sometimes have a quick onset.
As a physician, I see your predicament regularly.  It is very difficult to get elderly patients to give up driving.  It's no so much that 80 year old necessarily share the so-called american love affair with the automobile, it's that they realize their independence will suffer greatly.  this of course is a function of our worthless public transportation systems.  I've often said that an otherwise perfectly normal adult who could run a marathon but cannot drive due to epilepsy is in a sense more handicapped in our society than someone with paraplegia who can drive with hand controls.  The problem for the elderly is made even worse bc/ we tend to build nursing home and retirement communities out in the middle of nowhere.  There's often a little man made lake and a small garden for walking.  Half-baked "activities" occur in the small amount of space the home devotes to "recreation". I've always thought retirement and nursing homes should be in town where elderly people can walk (or go by scooter/ wheelchair) to parks, restaurants, shops, etc. and still be a part of regular society.  I suspect it is in large part our fear of aging and death that drives us to warehouse the elderly out of sight.  This is a tragedy.
Our hospital has an impaired drivers program run by occupational therapists. If anyone has a brain injury, stroke or even if its just mild cognitive impairment and poor eyesight, they can be referred to this service.  They spend hours on a computer simulator before going out on the road with the therapist.  Usually even the most stubborn person will realize they cannot drive after the 7th or 8th time they digitally kill themselves on the simulator.
I'm sure you feel a certain sense of guilt by removing the car from your father, but you shouldn't, you absolutely did the right thing.  You've made things safer for your father and the rest of us.  Many of my patients just have the keys stolen from them by family members.  No one yet has tried to hot wire their vehicle.
Required retesting of drivers periodically for license renewal would probably provide new job opportunities for the testers but might not have that great an impact on accident rates and fatalities. Age infirmities in and of them self do not necessarily impair driving abilities but rather it is the cognitive declines due to medication or disease that cause the problems. This can happen to the young also!
Plus experience with drunk driving points out that removal of a person's driver's license does not necessarily stop them from driving. Only either jail time or confiscation of the vehicle will do that. Most elderly people who feel they should no longer drive would love to have a way of getting around to shop that did not involve the automobile, but if one is too infirm to drive one certainly has no business on a bicycle! This is one more reason that we need to do a major overhaul on our transportation system to provide easy and efficient mass transit for more of our population. Otherwise those elderly who have had their license revoked will probably just drive without one when they need to go somewhere. Most usually drive in daylight and not at rush hour however.
How about limiting them to Neighborhood Electric Vehicles?  Slower speed, better visibility, ...

I know I'd rather have one of them coming at me than a full size van (a poor dear didn't see me and made a left in my direction about a month ago.  my brakes worked.)

I was going to suggest this, but you beat me to it.  Perhaps there could be a rating system sort of like in aviation.

Older people who can't safely operate a larger vehicle would only be certified to drive smaller and slower vehicles, such as NEVs.  Perhaps such should be the case with younger people as well.  Take another test for high speed, high horsepower endorsement.  GVWR >12,000 pounds rating.  Etc.

"Most elderly people who feel they should no longer drive would love to have a way of getting around to shop that did not involve the automobile, but if one is too infirm to drive one certainly has no business on a bicycle!"

This statement misses some important points.  First, an incompetent cyclist is pretty much a danger to only themself.  Vanishingly few people are killed each year by being struck by a bicyclist.  Next, many elderly people operate bicycles or tricycles just fine by traveling at a slower speed.  A motorist who slows down in the US is likely to get a ticket for impeding traffic, so they keep up with the other motorists even if it's unsafe for them to go that fast.  Finally, there are many other alternatives to bicycles that don't involve the danger to others that motor vehicles do.  

The only legitimate argument here is that the US has designed most communities to require automobile use.  Higher oil prices are going to require that all but the wealthy get over that, and start building and living in pedestrian/bicycle/transit oriented communities again, just like most of the rest of the world does.

I am going on my experience with the bicycles that go past my house on a two lane suburban road with no shoulders and deep ditches. Most of them travel at 20+ MPH to keep up with the auto traffic. Not exactly what you describe as 'slower and comfortable' for older people. There is one retirement home nearby and two more under construction. One inhabitant, handicapped but not elderly, regularily travels the three miles to the PO and grocery in his moterized wheelchair with a flag sticking up. Apparently this is legal since there is no sidewalk. Would you have all elderly do the same?
The ADA legally requires all new development to install sidewalks, AFAIK this applies to cities and includes roads. Not that it helps in older communities, but they can still be installed.
I live in Florida, God's waiting room, and the attitude down here towards DL's is definatly 'pry it out of my cold dead hands'. I've already almost killed an older woman who ran a red light right in front of me. We don't even require people to get their car inspected down here! If this works for European countries (actually TESTING people and requiring it to cost REAL money) then it ought to work here, for young and old.
The EU has an average population density 9x our own. This makes public transit a great deal more practical and cars a great deal more of a bother. The collapse of E. German infrastructure due to depopulation has some interesting implications for those trying to impose EU solutions on the US. In short, it's not going to work.
Interesting point - but I am fairly certain that the East German train network is pretty solid (supported by West German money, though), that East Germans still bicycle, and that the collapsing infrastructure is much more related to the fact that many people left to find work somewhere else, leaving the old and often the unskilled behind.

But yes, East Germany is pretty interesting as a case study in some ways. And yes, there are now a lot of East German towns (especially in the north) which resemble American suburbia in many intriguing ways.

Most suburbs suck bigtime for biking.

A beacon of light of an exception: Eden Prarie of Minnesota with 170 miles of trails--often parallel walking and bike trails so that pedestrians do not interfere with the bikers and vice versa.

I could be wrong about this, but in miles of dedicated bike trails, I think Minnesota leads the nation and has funded plans for further increases.

I live two blocks from a bike trail that connects to over two hundred miles of other bike trails. Either this year or next, I think there will be a bike trail all the way from the Twin Cities to Duluth; almost all of that is finished, and the trails are absolutely first rate pavement--and well maintained.

I suspect the strong Scandanavian and German background of many of our legislators has been a big factor in making Minnesota so bike friendly. Even our Republican governor (whom I do not like) is an avid biker and is always getting photographed or on TV biking with his family to a picnic or something like that. He even likes mass transit.

In Minnesota, even Republicans usually "get it."

I think common sense will tell you that many elderly people are not physically fit enough to use a bicycle.  Maybe you have not had much contact with the elderly, but I think suggesting a bicycle for someone in their 70s or 80s is absolutely foolish?  A problem when you get old is your ability to balance effectively.  Some elderly people just fall down when they are walking and break their hip or leg.  Not only is their balance impaired but at advanced age it won't take that much to break you either.  An elderly person on a bicycle might not be much of a hazard to someone else, but depending on their level of fitness they may be a serious hazard to themselves.  

In general if someone is not competent to drive an automobile, I am skeptical that they have what it takes to ride a bicycle.  Even if they are not physically unable, they're going to have the same mental impairment and slow response time that makes an automobile a liability.  

if someone is not competent to drive an automobile, I am skeptical that they have what it takes to ride a bicycle

This is often but not always true.  Some elderly persons unable to drive could get around on a bike (happens all the time in china).  Also, others could perhaps use an adult tricycle.  I know a woman locally that has a rare neurologic condition and although she could not use a regular bike, she uses one of these effectively to get around.

Some elderly people just fall down when they are walking and break their hip or leg

Falling is the most common reason given for nursing home admission.  As an interesting aside, and to demonstrate how frail our geriatric population has really become, consider this: it has been determined that the elderly don't exclusively fall and then break a hip, surprisingly often, they break a hip and then fall.  In other words, so many people are living today with very weak bones that it is increasingly common to have a spontaneous hip fracture that causes the leg to go out and results in a fall.  One line of evidence that led to this conslusion is that the elderly often break the hip that they did not fall onto!

My great-aunty Kirsteen pedalled around on her tricycle until she was 93.

I could have walked faster than her, but it was her freedom.

Here in NZ, most of the elderly have got electric 4-wheel 'mobility scooters'.  But there have been some high-profile incidences of people being injured by mobility scooters. One recent one resulted in the driver being charged.

I think the biggest problem is that we have lost our connection to our elderly.  In the past, the elderly were taken care of by their families and didn't need to be as indepedent as they are now. My mother cared for my grandpa almost until he died by cooking his lunch every day. She still, at the age of 67, does shopping for several elderly neighbours, as well as being on the committee at the local elderly care centre. How many people these days can be bothered with that level of responsibility? If we weren't so self-centred and "me, me, me" these days, then the elderly would not need to be so self-reliant.

You might try the official term, which is "crash".  Calling a traffic crash a "crash" gets around the insinuation that the crash was inevitable and makes it sound more serious than "incident."  

It's one of those insidious parts of car culture that crashes are accidents.  You can get a good dark laugh out of reading crash reports in most papers, too.  Cars mysteriously take control of themselves and steer into trees and such all the time in those reports.  

Nothing a motorist does wrong is really their fault, after all, or we might have to accept that motoring is actually dangerous, and there might be safer alternatives.

Again, every time we start an engine that burns fossil fuels we cause three kinds of "crashes" whether we hit anyone with the car or not.  There is the geopolitical crash which demands blood for oil.  There is the ecological crash which presents itself more fully as time goes by.  There is the economic crash that will manifest itself more fully as the costs of the first two kinds of crashes really manifest themselves.

Car driving is never safe.

Full disclosure: I pedal mostly, but my family does own a Honda Civic hybrid -- not my choice that we do -- but I ride in it and sometimes drive it.

We are all soaking in this toxic soup we call "car culture" and so our efforts must involve a variety of strategies to create a less damaging paradigm for human settlement.

I'm all for frequent testing of drivers for licensure!

I'm all for many other efforts to make positive changes as well!  Relocalisation, roads to rails, walking and biking, organic farming, continuously productive urban landscapes -- all are needed.

As long as you are testing and licensing, I think you had better start requiring written and riding tests for bicycle riders. Also, bicycles should be required to pay "license fees" to help pay for the paved surfaces they are riding on and display license plates so offenders can be identified. Additionally, all bicycles riden on the road should be required to carry liability insurance in case they hit someone or cause a car crash by inappropiate riding (even if they are not actually in the crash they can cause one). Having a bicycle crash into the side of a car can cause very expensive damage to the car.
If testing every 2-5 years weeded out all the bad drivers we wouldn't have so many bad young drivers. And the best way to take bad drivers of cars or bicycles off the road or require testing is when police stop someone for a serious violation.

Some rural counties provide transportation services (requires prior scheduling) for any of the rural residents. Both the old and the young are very heavy users of the service where provided. Farm kids can get to town at night or stay after school and still get a "ride" home without someone coming to get them. The elderly use the service often to get to the grocery store and to medical appointments and for shopping trips. Many of the services utilize volunteer drivers to operate the services. These services are getting more popular with the rural communities.

Come on now. Even if bicycles (their fault) hit cars all that often (and they don't, even in Holland or France, both places with many riders and both places I've ridden) how much damage can a 20-40 pound bicycle really do? $500 bucks worth?
Licensing them might make sense, but only to prevent theft. Again, not done in 'bicycling' countries like Holland. Most places vehicles are charged by weight and I'm sure the state considers that a money losing proposition or they would have done it already.
Bike theft is a HUGE problem in the Netherlands and also on many university campuses in the U.S. At one time at U.C., Berkeley in the sixties, there were an average of about forty bike thefts a night being reported.

I like the humor approach, you know a little sticker that says:
"Is there life after death? Steal this bike and find out."

Of course I also use Kryptonite locks and yards of cables that cannot be cut by anything short of a half an hour with a hacksaw or cable (or bolt) cutters with at least eight-foot handles.

In some areas, rape of bicyclists is becoming a big problem, because women are especially vulnerable to a big guy with a knife who pushes them off the road during the early morning hours or whenever.

Were I a woman I'd get a concealed carry permit and carry a Colt .45 in compact version--and shoot off the whole magazine into the torso of anybody who threatened to rape or hurt me with a weapon.

Against vicious and dangerous dogs I use a squirt gun loaded with something nasty--household ammonia is good, as is bleach (but do not mix those two!) The last time I went down on a bike was when I was nine years old and a German shephard bit my thigh deep enough to draw blood. Scared the hell out of me. Turned out the dog belonged to a doctor and the family was SO nice because they were scared really scared that my parents would sue. But my father was a peacemaker--got reassurance that the dog would be fenced in or firmly leashed in the future and the situation ended happily with my making my first zip gun. It wasn't as good as the later ones, though. This mania for suing is, however, making many people somewhat less careless with dogs than used to be the case.

As long as you are testing and licensing, I think you had better start requiring written and riding tests for bicycle riders. Also, bicycles should be required to pay "license fees" to help pay for the paved surfaces they are riding on and display license plates so offenders can be identified. Additionally, all bicycles riden on the road should be required to carry liability insurance in case they hit someone or cause a car crash by inappropiate riding (even if they are not actually in the crash they can cause one). Having a bicycle crash into the side of a car can cause very expensive damage to the car.

I'm all for that idea.   Protated for the kenetic energy on a log scale, its cheap.   Oh, and that means cars/trucks can't cut off bikes without fines (on the log scales) or pass then cut in front w/o fines, right?      So long as you also have cars and trucks actually PAY for their road use VS the present system of subsidies...right?

As you are making a 'faireness argument'...lets make it fair eh?

Also, bicycles should be required to pay "license fees" to help pay for the paved surfaces they are riding on and display license plates so offenders can be identified.

Look everybody, it's Jacob Richler. Or maybe you're this guy?  

I think I have to play "republican" here. Overregulation is a curse, and you need careful cost-benefit analysis.

Since insurance companies are the "cost regulators" of car accidents, I'd say the ball is in their court to consider adding say a $500 premium per year to all drivers who haven't passed a certified safety test within the last 5 years. (Ideally, this premium of course can be used to LOWER the costs for driver who pass such a test.)

Well, the the question is how much extra do you CHARGE drivers in insurance for FAILING to pass a safety test!

And of course I agree with the opinions that you gotta give people alternatives to driving, or many dangerous drivers will drive anyway license or not, as DWI convictions have shown.

People can do this right now. Take the 55 Alive course (you have to be over 50) and you get 10% off your insurance on each car you own. I have insurance on 5 vehicles and it saves me a lot of cash each year. And I always learn something new when I take the refresher courses every couple of years to keep the discount with the insurance company. 1 day for course, 1/2 day for refresher course.


Some years ago I heard  people my age explicitly say they  avoiding Arizona and Florida as places to raise a kid, on account of the many elderly drivers.
It is a good thing to stimulate brain storming sessions on conservation, but I'm afraid this proposal is too flawed to be of substance.  Adding a lot of bureaucratic red tape to driving is not likely have a substantial effect on gas usage in automobiles.  

Given increasing WORLDWIDE demand and the myriad of uses for fossil fuels (agriculture, industrial, synthesis of plastics, etc.) combined with continued pressure from overpopulation this type of proposal is tantamount to spitting on a fire.

...but if we all spit on the fire at once...I fully admit that this is a bit tongue in cheek...

The real benefit from a PO perspective is to challenge the auto-centric view of residential development/zoning. Because not all people are well suited to drive an automobile physicially, mentally or emotionally, we cannot and should not assume that automobiles should be the ONLY means of transportation for the vast majority of our landscape.

Another spit on the fire is my Modest Proposal on Drinking and Driving

With enough new bureaucratic red tape, people will perhaps be so busy complying with the rules and paying fines that they won't notice the transition to a post-peak  1984/Soylent Green type environment.
And if they do complain, we can use the new rules and infringements to quieten them more easily.

The most obvious way to reduce driving, by the way, would be to ration gasoline...

A newly released study placed Brookhaven in the unenviable top spot among U.S. cities in terms of how much household income is spent on fuel .

http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=16935515&BRD=1377&PAG=461&dept_id=172922&r fi=6

Interesting list. I guess these are the real canaries in the coal mine.
All this talk about switching from cars to bikes has me very confused. Besides the fact that the vast majority of our urban centers are extremeley unfriendly to bikes, people seem to forget one of the biggest limiting factors of bikes: weather!

Unless you live in California, for example, bikes can be extremely impractical. Take Wisconsin. Consider riding your bike even short distances when the wind chill factor is in the teens (during the DAY) at best. Add to this all of the snow, sleet, and thunderstroms that can also occur. In a year, there may be less than 100 good biking days and I think that is being very optimistic.

I used to ride a bike year-round in Philly, but that was only short distances around campus, and I still froze my ass off much of the time.

Bikes in Minnesota (Twin cities metro area) seem quite practical, as least with a little creativity, maybe helped by mild winters lately, and a little harsh on the dating life (Hope hint - exchange paying gas for your girlfriend's vehicle is a viable compromise!)

Most seriously, I shared a car with my sister for 8 years quite well, with my bike as a primary transportation, and although I expect downgrading to no car is a tough choice for most, I believe more households can and will downgrade to less cars than adults as fuel prices go up.

I do admit I don't "get around" as much without my own car, but even when I had exclusive access to a car, I prided myself on not being daily dependent upon it (i.e. Games like "How many weeks or months can I go without filling the tank?" type games!)

P.S. Internet radar is a GREAT asset to weather-dependent bikers!


Thank you for the common sense.  

The weather along with the rapidly aging population and the crime rate assures that bicycles, while an enjoyable toy, and a beautiful device, or EXTREMELY LIMITED as  actual working transportation.  Do not think that in many cities and neigborhoods you cannot be hit with a brick, closelined with a stick, mugged and horribly attacked on bicycles.  Out here in the supposed peaceful South and Midwest, I know of several college girls who were grabbed off bicycles, and their bodies found later,  and the founder of Papa John's Pizza and a friend of his, avid bicyclists, were nearly killed when a textbook was thrown and struck them on a country road in Kentucky.  It happens more often than you may think.

Try carrying your sick child home from school early on a bicycle, and in a raging thunderstorm to boot. :-(
We had this discussion the other day and someone said take the bus or the local train or tram.  What if none is available when you need to go and opps, as we said, the child is still sick!

There are two distinct issues at discussion here:

  1.  Peak Oil, and the issue of consuming more fuel than can be sustainably produced.  That is the heart of the peak oil issue.

  2.  Rabid and raw hatred of the automobile per se, regardless of what it may be powered, whether or not can be massively improved, or if advanced design can make it a marginal factor in the "peak oil "problem"

The idea of a personal module of mechanized transportation is so abhorrent to many who have grafted themselves onto the peak oil movement, that it is rapidly becoming a fixation, in fact, even a mania, and completely distroying the credibility of the issue in the view of the average person who does not hate the automobile with every fiber of their being, and actually may need one.  For them, salvaging the automobile may be (a) do-able, (b) desirable and (c) non-threatening to the nation, if it can be managed correctly.

What they sometimes fail to understand is that there are those who hate the idea of personal powered transportation  on an aesthetic and  moral basis, and even if every desirable condition could be met, do not accept the idal of personal mechanical transportation of any kind more than a human powered type.

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Aye, I love cars (guess I'm an American), but can't help but see them going away as available energy becomes more limited. Guess I'm a bit of a realist. I'll miss driving--do so now, becuase I've had to cut down due to cost.

However, one thing you should keep in mind is that there is more than one kind of "bike" out there. Some are enclosed. Some have more than one seat. Some have three wheels, and others have four. There are trailers that can be rain-proof and fairly comfortable for a child. Don't limit your imagination here. And, on top of this, imagine what might get developed if pedal-power became the main form of transportation in these parts...


So basically what it comes down is that you have to have a car, because there's really no other viable choice. And guess why there is no viable alternative? That's right, because everyone has a car, so the system is designed around that assumption, which is certainly true to a first approximation in this country, if not entirely. And as peak oil hits, that starts to  become less true for various reasons, mostly because energy is going to get much more expensive, and dragging a couple tons of steel around with you everywhere you go will not be a viable option anymore.

Oh, and about those who are philosophically opposed to cars in general, I think some of that perspective comes from riding a bike too much, among the current hostile flow of motorized traffic, in its gigantic mechanized indifference. Like some giant dystopian machine, it can chew you up and spit you out, and not notice, much less care that you are dead. When you have to face road rage without that protection of a car, you too would start to get a hatred of all things automotive. Well, that and some people are just holier-than-thou self righteous ***holes, who think that getting on a bike makes them a superior form of humanity.

The counter-example is Denmark, where despite the weather Danes (in far worse weather) cycle for 20% of their journeys.

I've dropped the link to this episode from an earlier Changing Places series, on the National Cycle Network, a web of 10,000 miles of cycle paths across Britain. Again, the interesting tidbit here (if I heard it correctly) was that while Britons cycle for 2% of their journeys, Danes (in far worse weather) cycle for 20% of their journeys.

The bbc radio programe is still available here:


highely recommended.

(stilted text the result of sloppy cut and paste.)
Peak oil will eliminate most drivers, most of the time. Bikes will have a better shot.
The absurdity of supposedly-legal drivers that couldn't pass a gawd-damned test for driving!

What's next? Airline pilots and surgens that don't bother with tests either?

Driving is a matter of life and death, people get killed all the time driving, there's a car accident every five minutes now.

The simplest way to deal with elderly drivers who are incompetent or negligent or both is to take away their cars. This is easily done, with law enforcement policy alone. There already exist forfeiture laws that can be used to address the situation efficiently. Many states have the right to confiscate possessions, such as cars, that are suspected of being used to commit a crime.

In many cases, no criminal case ever needs to be brought. The confiscated equipment is auctioned off, and its owner need not be either charged or compensated. Constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure have very limited application to motor vehicles.

The auctioning-off of the cars seized from the elderly can be made into something of a profit center, allowing for lower taxes, and making the program popular with the voters.