Some background is necessary. Last month, by far the stupidest TV show currently on the air and arguably one of the top ten most ridiculous shows in U.S. entertainment history proved that metaphorical jewels van be found in garbage. On the pile of over-produced, pablum-for-morons, steaming idiot box crap called “The Masked Singer,” the scene in the video above emerged. Dick Van Dyke, now 97, was the secret singer (and dancer) disguised in a full-body costume worthy of a Disneyland character parade. The reaction of the studio audience, judges and Van Dyke himself when he was “unmasked” was unquestionably sincere as well as moving; yeah, it choked me up (though I’m easy.)
The episode, which shows the “Mary Poppins” icon to be something of a freak of nature (but we knew that when he performed a dance routine in the sequel to “Mary Poppins” a few years ago), is relevant to the issue on Ethics Alarms. Yesterday, Dick was behind the wheel of his a 2018 Lexus LS 500 in Malibu when he lost control of his vehicle and crashed into gate, sustaining minor injuries.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…
Is it responsible for a 97-year-old to be driving, and for society to permit one to drive?
A few notes:
- My father had decided to surrender his license as soon as my mother got out of the hospital (where she was recovering from a knee replacement) when he died in his sleep at 89. Dad had asked the DMV in Arlington, Virginia to give him a road test, and they refused, which he thought was negligent. My father’s driving was no more eccentric than it always was as he approached 90, but he believed there had to be a mandatory cut-off point.
- It is only moral luck that Dick’s car didn’t kill somebody.
- Even if someone is in wonderful physical and mental shape after 90, as Van Dyke surely is, at that advanced age every second may be the last one. It seems apparent that there is an ethical obligation not to allow that last second to be occupied driving a car in public.
- For many senior drivers, losing their driving privileges is a serious hardship. Dick can hire a driver.
- The issue is similar to the question of mandatory retirement in challenging and important jobs, like a Supreme Court justice, the President, or a U.S. Senator.
38 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Unmasked 97-Year-Old Driver”
Prince Philip “voluntarily” surrendered his after an accident in which he injured others. He was not prosecuted, since you can’t really prosecute the sovereign’s consort.
“Is it responsible for a 97-year-old to be driving, and for society to permit one to drive?”
I think that is entirely conditional upon the capabilities of the individual, as is true for anyone’s driving privilege.
What I think is responsible as a society for individuals over 90 that want to continue to drive, due to the decline of reaction times as we age, those over 90 should be required to take a driving test every year or two. Yes it will be an inconvenience, driving is a privilege not a right. My father is 92 and he is still driving and doing a good job of it, he’s always been a very good defensive driver. My late boss was 67 when he died in 2019 and from the first time I rode with him, 25 years earlier, I swore I would never ride in a vehicle that he was driving ever again, I always drove and he knew why. Yes age can be a factor in driving but it’s not always “the” factor.
Personally I think we have way too many irresponsible drivers on the road and it’s become an epidemic as the availability and usage of smart phones has increased. I’m dead certain that my father at 92 can drive better than a 20 something that can’t put their damn phone down.
I support this whole heartedly. I know people at 85 who are better drivers than some 40-something’s who drive near me. I’d love to see drivers tests be a thing. I’d take one every 5-10 years if I knew others were too.
My only concern is that driving is not only a privilege, but a necessity, at least in flyover country. Taking driver’s licenses away from people can be a death sentence. Not only is grocery delivery not a thing out there, but getting to see doctors or even just trying to not be isolated becomes an issue.
I don’t know the solution, but I do know it isn’t as simple as everyone getting drivers tests, unless you only mean in urban areas where there are other options.
Sarah B. wrote, “I don’t know the solution, but I do know it isn’t as simple as everyone getting drivers tests, unless you only mean in urban areas where there are other options.”
I definitely don’t mean just in urban areas.
I understand the issue in rural areas but the same driving is a privilege and safety concerns exist regardless of where the driver is in the USA. Since states issue drivers license, this is primarily a state issue; however, since drivers can freely cross state lines with their vehicles this become a issue nation wide. As baby boomers age and expected life span increases this is going to become more of a problem nation wide. The only reasonable solution I can see is to require regular/routine driving tests beyond a predefined age, will it catch all the drivers that shouldn’t be on the road at any particular time, no but it will certainly remove some of them from the road.
There’s also the issue that some drivers will choose to drive after they’ve had their drivers license taken away.
Steve, I don’t think that it is simply a matter of competence.
A 90 year old person may be a much better driver than a 40-year old. However, your average 90-year old is far more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than the average 40-year old. Having a stroke while travelling at 65 miles per hour on a busy road in a 2000 pound car is a serious matter. Add in delayed reaction times, as well as susceptibility to confusion (my dad was a decent driver, but, in his 80’s he often got confused as he drove to the same store he had driven to many times), and even a good driver could be dangerous.
These are things a yearly test is unlikely to reveal.
JutGory wrote, “However, your average 90-year old is far more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than the average 40-year old.”
Okay, if we’re going to go down that “far more likely to” road then 16-30 year old people are “far more likely to” be distracted by text messaging while driving and cause injury to themselves or others. I think that “far more likely to” concept could be a slippery slope, really consider how that slippery slope could be applied to strip people of their rights, as an example I’ve read that it’s “far more likely” for white males to be mass shooters than anyone else, heck one progressive blogger I know proclaimed that white males are “the leading cause of mass shootings in our nation”, note he wrote that they are the “cause”. I’m over 60 years old and statistics can show that due to my age alone I’m “far more likely to” have a heart attack or stroke than a 20 year old. How far do you want to push this “far more likely to” concept?
This “far more likely to” concept would be almost like punishment because statistics says something “might” happen. I don’t like statistics because they can be twisted to show anything and I think this “far more likely to” would be an abuse of statistics.
Steve: “Okay, if we’re going to go down that “far more likely to” road then 16-30 year old people are “far more likely to” be distracted by text messaging while driving and cause injury to themselves or others.”
Bad analogy. Texting is a completely voluntary activity; it can be controlled and punished as reckless driving. Heart attacks and strokes are involuntary. If you have one while driving, you would probably not be charged with reckless driving. Similarly, if you are epileptic or on anti-convulsive medications, you simply are ineligible to get a license in some places simply as a matter of public safety.
Same goes for your shooter analogy. Mass shootings are completely voluntary.
There is no slippery slope here.
Thanks for sharing your opinion but I think we’ll just have to disagree on this point.
I won’t agree to that.
That’s your choice too.
That Dick Van Dike video brought a small tear to my eye too. He’s one of my all time favorite entertainers. He’s always seemed so genuine with everyone he comes in contact with and he seems to have put his heart and soul into everything he’s done. I’m not sure how to describe him but an icon seems like an understatement to me.
Bad, bad, bad Steve; I really admire Dick Van Dyke and I can’t even take the time to spell his name correctly. 😦
He’ll be cancelled soon due to having starred in a movie from a story authored by Ian Fleming and the screenplay co-written by Roald Dahl.
Dick looks like he could still fake a trip-summersault over an ottoman.
One of the very few great physical comedians—who attributed his continued ability to be one to knowing how to roll, fall, and do stunts safely. He once called up Chevy Chase to warn him that if he kept doing those pratfalls on SNL without learning how to fake them, he’d end up crippled. Chevy, typically, ignored the advice, and ended up with a permanently damaged back and addicted to pain pills. Jerry Lewis made the same mistake.
I’ve been told turning 90 is akin to hitting the wall when running a marathon. I sure saw it in my dad’s case. He turned 90 and was dead within six (not very pretty) months. I’d be fine with an absolute bar on driving at age 90.
Other Bill wrote, “I’d be fine with an absolute bar on driving at age 90.”
Not conditional, simply done with driving? Wouldn’t that be pure age discrimination?
Call it what you will, Steve. I’d call it common sense and good highway safety.
We don’t allow seven year olds to drive either.
Other Bill wrote, “We don’t allow seven year olds to drive either.”
Really bad comparison; 7 year old’s can’t meet the standards for driving, some 90+ year old’s can meet the standards.
My late father drove a truck delivering milk from the family cows when he was twelve. Some twelve year-olds can drive delivery trucks. So what?
Other Bill wrote, “My late father drove a truck delivering milk from the family cows when he was twelve. Some twelve year-olds can drive delivery trucks.”
Moving the goalpost OB?
I drove some cars and trucks on gravel country roads between distant farms out in the boonies when I was 11 or 12 too, this is really not relevant to our discussion.
Other Bill wrote, “So what?”
My entire point in this thread from top to bottom has been and will remain that there are 90+ individuals that can meet the current standards for driving and stripping them of the privilege because statistics show something “might” happen due to their age is age discrimination pure and simple. This is a highway safety issue and the statistics show us that something “might” happen in a much greater number to drivers between the ages of 16-30 years old, so if this is a pure highway safety issue and not age discrimination then we should be focused on the age group(s) where the most crashes happen to increase overall highway safety. Let’s face reality as it is, if you’re hit and injured by another driver that’s not driving safely, your injuries are no different if the age of the unsafe driver is 16 or 95, the issue is safety not age.
If we want to change the standards and limit the driving privileges based on some predefined medical conditions like they are doing in New Zealand and Japan (see Errol’s and crella’s comments below) then so be it, change the base standards to conditional standards for everyone regardless of their age. Based on the current standards, an unconditional absolute bar on driving at age 90+, as you talked about, would be pure age discrimination against those 90 and above regardless of their health and capabilities, that’s not right.
If highway safety really is the only issue, then what we can do is make a reasonable effort to limit driving privileges to those that don’t have individual medical conditions that are known to randomly effect their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle no matter what their age is. We really don’t want someone that has random epileptic seizures, or other serious medical conditions that can randomly negatively affect their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, driving on our roads regardless of their age, it’s not like such things are limited to 90+ individuals.
Even though driving is considered a necessity in some areas of the USA, driving is still a privilege and not a right. Adjust the base standards for driving privileges and build in the predefined limitations across the board.
Other Bill wrote, “Call it what you will, Steve. I’d call it common sense and good highway safety.”
So engaging in pure age discrimination is good highway safety?
It doesn’t seem that the statistics support your claim. It seems that if we’re going to engage in age discrimination and cut off the age groups that are causing the most crashes then the 16-30 year old age group is at the top of the list statistically.
“So engaging in pure age discrimination is good highway safety?”
But it’s not pure age discrimination. It is making distinctions based on actual factors, risks, experience, and probability. That is neither unfair nor unethical. Aging is a real and documented issue; nobody is immune from it, nobody does not experience declines mentally and physically from its effects. Even if someone like DVD is an anomaly, it is reasonable to make public safety laws based on what we know are norms, and also to create societal norms that advance those goals. I know people who can drink and drive with relatively no impairment, or, put another way, drive better under the influence that many who are cold sober. Some drivers drive well distracted; I know others who can’t even be spoken to while they are driving, and who don’t want the radio on. It is reasonable and responsible for society to reinforce a social norm where citizens over a certain age voluntarily surrender their license to drive. Confirmation bias and self-interest makes them conflicted judges of the matter, so they shouldn’t have to make the call. They should just do it, as good and responsible members of society. And the law should help encourage them to do so.
I’m with you, Steve.
It’s just like how fatal crashes are more common in good weather than bad (https://aaafoundation.org/motor-vehicle-crashes-injuries-deaths-relation-weather-conditions/). Good weather encourages risky driving behaviours. Sure, there are many biologic things that make the elderly less safe on the road, but they are more than compensated for by elderly drivers generally behaving more safely on the roads. And I’m not making it up — look at the stats Steve shows. When we have achieved the utopia where the 16-30-year-olds drive as cautiously as the elderly, we can discuss this strict age cutoff business.
I don’t understand that chart. I would expect the number of fatal crashes per 100,000 people to go down with age, since fewer drivers that age are still on the road. Where are the stats of fatal crashed per 100,000 over 80-year olds? I don’t think those stats have that data. “And “+” hardly covers the over 90 question, right?
If you follow the link I provided you’ll find more information.
And by the way, Steve, I think there should be hard and fast retirement ages for all judges and politicians. Maybe even as young as sixty-five. Modern medicine is keeping bodies alive for unprecedented periods of time. Bodies are outliving brains. Remember how old someone was who was sixty when we were kids? People in their eighties were outliers. We’re just not immortal.
Other Bill wrote, “And by the way, Steve, I think there should be hard and fast retirement ages for all judges and politicians. Maybe even as young as sixty-five.”
I think an open debate on that kind of age discrimination should take place and if society chooses to discriminate against the “elderly” in this way they must then debate at what age to do that. There is a legal hurdle to overcome to make such a hard and fast rule, and that is The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, I’m pretty sure that judges and politicians are reasonably covered by that act and to make the hard and fast rule you’re talking about that act would likely have to be amended or abolished.
Actually, what you’re looking for is exactly what the chart shows: rates of collisions per 100 000 drivers in each age category.
Actually Tony, what Jack was looking for was fatalities not just crashes, the graphic I provided earlier only showed crashes.
Here is a chart from the same link I provided that has some information about fatalities…
That link I provided has lots of information.
Steve: the language is ambiguous, and if I were to interpret it, I’d give it a Inigo Montoya. “Rate of fatal crash involvements among passengers 70 and older per 100,000 people” doesn’t mean “Rate of fatal crash involvement per 100,000 drivers who are 70 and older.” I’m bad at charts, but pretty good at English. That’s a misleading label. I don’t trust studies that describe results that way.
Aside: in my experience, aged drivers who drive “carefully” are diving too slowly and tentatively, meaning that they may not crash themselves but are a menace on the road to everyone else. So the fatality or the crash stats don’t really prove your case.
The statistical charts are showing relative trends not specific details, I was looking to show trends.
The source I got the graphics from and linked to was the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and it seemed to me like a reputable source for this kind of unbiased information. I’m open to looking at a different source.
Jack wrote, “Aside: in my experience, aged drivers who drive “carefully” are diving too slowly and tentatively, meaning that they may not crash themselves but are a menace on the road to everyone else.”
That’s a great point. I think they could devise a reasonable method of testing for that kind of issue in driving tests but to be completely fair, I’ve seen drivers of all ages driving the speed limit or just below while the entire traffic flow around them is driving nearly ten over – who is wrong – who is right – who is safe – who is unsafe? Do you condemn the person driving the speed limit in a driving test because everyone around them is exceeding the speed limit? That would be kind of like a damned if you do and dammed it you do situation for an elderly person in a driving test. Again, great point.
Jack wrote, “So the fatality or the crash stats don’t really prove your case.”
I think they reasonably prove the points I raised.
Here in New Zealand, a driver at 75 then 80 and every two years after that must get a medical certificate from a doctor then sit a 30 minute on-road safety test after that.
The doctor’s certificate may say that the driver is medically fit to drive or medically fit to drive with conditions (eg correcting lenses, time-of-day restriction, distance restriction).
I had a friend who was restricted to driving only between rush hours.
Errol wrote, “Here in New Zealand, a driver at 75 then 80 and every two years after that must get a medical certificate from a doctor then sit a 30 minute on-road safety test after that.”
Like it or not, that’s a base set of standards in place so the elderly can continue the privilege of driving if they meet the base standards. It a privilege to drive not a right.
In Japan they’ve added a dementia test, and a run-through of the driving school’s closed course to licensing requirements, and have also shortened the renewal time to two years instead of five for those over 75. Those who flounder on the dementia portion of the licensing test will be required to undergo dementia testing at a hospital.
Japan is aging rapidly and we’ve had a series of accidents here caused by elderly drivers going the wrong way on highways, and driving through storefronts by slamming the accelerator instead of the brake when parking. Two people on the sidewalk were killed just last week, when a man had a sneezing fit and drove up on the sidewalk and into the side of a hospital. The measures were enacted recently, it’s too early to tell if they’ll be effective. I hope they will be.