EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — The fastest growing segment of Pennsylvania drivers on the road is not teenagers.
PennDOT says it is actually people 65 and older whose driving skills and knowledge of driving laws may not be what they once were.
With so many seniors on the road, it raises a serious question: what does it mean for their safety and everyone else’s?
A game of bingo is a weekday draw at the Active Adult Center in downtown Hazleton.
The bingo players are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. Many of them still drive which is not all fun and games sharing the road with other drivers.
“They’re like Evil, like Evil Knievel every day,” said former driver Joe Kosak of Hazleton.
“There’s more cars on the road now than there were when I was younger,” said 78-year-old driver Sandy Kellner of Hazleton.
More drivers age 65 and older, too. Roughly 2.3 million of them are on the road according to PennDOT or about one of every four drivers.
87-year-old Joan Herbinko of Hazleton is among them.
“When you’re driving, you do see some people, the things that they do. they shouldn’t be driving,” she said.
Pennsylvania’s 2022 Strategic Highway Safety Plan reports drivers age 65 and older contributed to roughly one in four fatal crashes statewide in 2021.
It has led to several recommendations including focusing on education.
Northeast Highway Safety Program conducts sessions with seniors throughout northeastern Pennsylvania to discuss rules of the road and other vital information
“We really want to protect our older drivers. it’s really their last leg of freedom so to speak. so we really want to keep them driving longer, safer,” explained Northeast Highway Safety Program Educaton Coordinator Rebecca Ryabk.
Another Pennsylvania Strategic Highway Safety Plan recommendation is to improve driver’s license screening to make sure older drivers are fit to get behind the wheel.
PennDOT already has a monthly program in place to randomly select 1,900 drivers age 45 and older for retesting seven months before their license lapses.
Mature drivers are more often the ones chosen to undergo the medical and vision exam which can be a real eye-opener.
“Maybe there’s a medical diagnosis there where a doctor is saying you shouldn’t be driving but they’re not listening to that and it’s difficult for the family to take the keys,” said Tpr. Anthony Petroski, Public Information Officer, Troop N Hazleton.
But Pennsylvania can.
It took away the licenses of roughly 4,400 drivers age 65 or older in 2022.
In theory, the Commonwealth could take away even more if mature drivers failed a road test like the ones required in New Hampshire and Illinois at age 75.
The question is: should Pennsylvania do something similar?
“Well, issuing mandates is always complicated,” said PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll.
Pennsylvania does mandate doctors to report anyone with a condition that could impair their ability to drive.
Family members can also inform PennDOT in writing their concerns about an older loved one’s driving fitness.
“It’s an important discussion though, for the sake of the driver the senior but also for the traveling public and pedestrians as well. No one wants to cause an accident, no one wants to cause an injury,” explained Secy. Carroll.
“Thankfully, in this day and age taking the keys is not as scary as it seems for an older driver,” says Rybak.
She says ride-share options and public transportation can get seniors to and from the places they want or need to be rather than be a road risk
“I think most people that are in that situation they know it and if they’re pushing the envelope they really shouldn’t be,” added Kosak.
Completing a voluntary driver refresher course could result in more than a senior insurance discount.
It could also shed light on the mature driver’s abilities to see, hear, and react.
“I still feel like I have them, though. I still really feel like I have them. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be driving,” said Kellner.
Ten organizations offer PennDOT-approved basic and refresher mature driver improvement courses.
To learn more about those options, visit the DMV website.
For more on this story, check out The Times Leader’s coverage of this joint reporting project on their website.