I am writing to clarify the misleading headline of the July 23 edition of the BDN article, “ Secretary of State Charlie Summers exploring tougher restrictions for older drivers in Maine.”
This article suggests that I am “targeting” senior drivers for “tougher restrictions” and seeking new legislation that will affect elder drivers. It also suggests that this initiative is further along in the process than it actually is. We are beginning to explore any and all resources that may be available for drivers to evaluate their current abilities and discuss how these skills may be affected by certain medical conditions or the aging process.
What I discussed was the challenge Maine currently faces due to the fact that we have the oldest population per capita in the United States. Maine has more than 189,000 drivers over the age of 65, roughly 20 percent of all drivers in the state. National statistics have shown that drivers over the age of 70 are involved in more fatal crashes per miles driven than any other age group except for teens. As secretary of state, it is my responsibility to address the needs of all drivers, regardless of age.
That being said, I have begun an exploratory process to see what opportunities might be available to educate the state’s aging drivers. My intention with the Senior Driver Initiative is not to “toughen restrictions” on senior drivers but to ensure that every driver is given the education and opportunity to enhance their driving skills, as needed, as we age.
It is crucial that I acknowledge and proactively address the needs of aging drivers, not only for safety reasons but to assist seniors in maintaining their independence in such a rural state. I want to ensure that elderly drivers are able to stay on the road as long as it’s safely possible.
AAA Northern New England is very active in providing information through its outreach programs to senior drivers. I am in discussions with our friends at AAA and also have met with various automobile dealers in an effort to establish a collaborative partnership with the secretary of state’s office. This partnership would bring AAA’s program, my own department and auto dealers together to provide educational opportunities and offer assistance to as many drivers as possible.
I would like to create an environment where drivers can learn about and see demonstrations of technology available in today’s automobiles, which may be beneficial to an aging driver, and have representatives available from my office who are knowledgeable about how certain medical conditions affect a person’s driving ability and help recognize both strengths and opportunities for improvement in a driver’s current skills. I believe that by working together we can reach the greatest population and make this program available at a local level.
I also want to make it perfectly clear that there is no pending legislation, nor has there been any legislation introduced, that would toughen restrictions on senior drivers. My initiative is solely for safety educational opportunities as it relates to the needs of Maine’s aging driver population. These educational opportunities would be available to those that think they may need some assistance or that would like to prepare for the future. They will not be made mandatory. “Tougher restrictions” implies that we are creating more mandates for senior drivers which is not what our effort is about.
I would encourage any reader to contact my office directly for more information or with questions at 626-8400 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charlie Summers Jr. is Maine’s secretary of state.