Monday, September 8, 2008

Laying blame for traffic crashes

Washington Post columnist Robert Novak unfortunately has a brain tumor. He wrote a column about this and he described how he found out something was wrong. As he put it, his "2004 black Corvette struck a pedestrian on 18th Street while I was on my way to my office downtown."

The way he worded this intentionally makes it sound like his car was off driving badly while he was innocently heading to work. But he was driving his car at the time his car hit someone. That means he hit someone, but he is absolving himself of any blame because he has a brain tumor. (He also mentioned that the guy he hit was homeless as though that lessens the seriousness of the crash.)

Not to pick of Novak, but how we deal with medically related traffic crashes is an important issue for local and state policy (these are the governments who regulate traffic). As the elderly population increases, the likelihood of crashes caused by people who shouldn't be driving will go up. How proactive should policy be for reducing these risks?

I think policy should be extremely proactive, and the consequences of violating the law severe. There should be no more deference to old age or medical conditions than to drunk driving because the outcomes of crashes are the same. If Novak was drunk rather than debilitated by cancer he would be facing attempted manslaughter charges. Obviously he didn't mean to hit anyone (his car certainly didn't mean to hit anyone), but drunk drivers don't mean to hit anyone either. His attitude that he wasn't at fault is problematic because it is the prevalent feeling about elderly drivers. There needs to be more alternatives to driving to allow those who shouldn't be behind the wheel the mobility to which they have the right to, and the testing required to continue driving should be increased.
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