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Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip photographed at The Royal Windsor Horse Show on May 11, 2018.

KGC-178/STAR MAX/IPx via AP

We need the British monarchy. Not to set values or inspire us, nor for our culture or heritage. We need the monarchy because whenever a member of the Royal Family makes news, it brings important issues to the forefront. Case in point: 97-year-old Prince Philip’s recent car crash.

On Jan. 17, the Duke of Edinburgh collided with a Kia near the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in England while driving his Land Rover. The two women in the Kia sustained minor injuries; an infant was unharmed. The Prince’s Land Rover flipped over. In a letter to the accident victim published Sunday in London, Prince Phillip wrote that a low sun disturbed his vision. “In normal conditions, I would have no difficulty in seeing traffic coming from the Dersingham direction, but I can only imagine that I failed to see the car coming, and I am very contrite about the consequences,” he said.

Of course, it made international headlines.

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And so the debate about the elderly and driving was once again raised. Should anyone over the age of 80 be allowed to drive? Should we start monitoring anyone over 65? What’s to be done?

As is typical in this golden age of reason, two extremes weighed in.

Those who believe elderly drivers are a highway menace – let’s call these people "the young”– argued that we need stricter conditions. They noted that as we age, our vision worsens and we can suffer from conditions that can impair our ability to drive.

It seems as if each week we read about a senior driver involved in a spectacular accident. In Boston recently, a 90-year-old crashed into an ice cream shop. In British Columbia, a 74-year-old launched her vehicle off an embankment. In Ontario, anyone over 80 must renew their license by passing a vision test and written test every two years. They must also attend group education classes and can be required to take a road test. The young wonder, “Is that enough?”

The opposing side – let’s call these folks “the seniors” – countered that while Canadians older than 65 account for the highest proportional rate of highway fatalities, it’s the young who are really the most potentially lethal. Those 25 to 34 suffered more collision-related fatalities and serious injuries than for those older than 65 in 2016, the last year for which stats are available: 2,186 compared with 1,878, according to Transport Canada. Adding the 20-24 group to the 25-34 group, young people incurred 30.4 per cent of overall serious injuries and fatalities, compared with 12.2 per cent for seniors. And seniors may argue that they die in collisions because their bodies are less able to withstand the physical trauma, not because they are poor drivers.

Let’s deal with Prince Philip first. He gets away with slamming his Land Rover into a Kia carrying two women and a baby because he’s the Duke of Edinburgh. It’s one of the perks.

Now, the young. One of the great joys of being younger than 65 is judging those who are older than 65. In the same way that a 17-year-old sees anyone over 30 as almost ancient, those under 65 see the over-65 set as sometimes adorable semi-invalids who need to be protected from themselves. Which means telling them not to drive.

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What the young fail to understand is that when it comes to insight, seniors have the advantage because they not only know what it’s like to be old, they know what it’s like to be young. That’s also why older drivers are much less likely to speed, drink-and-drive, drug-and-drive or succumb to road rage. They’ve been through that phase. They’re not worried about impressing the guy in the car next to them. They don’t have time for games. Want to hear the cold, hard, unvarnished truth? Ask anyone over 65 what they think of your hair.

With that insight, however, comes responsibility. Seniors must also acknowledge that the need to continue to drive into one’s twilight years has little to do with transport and a lot to do with psychology. Driving, especially for those who learned in the 1960s and 1970s, means independence. It means mobility. It means life as an adult. Let’s just say that human beings don’t experience the same exhalation when buy their “last” car and move into their “last” apartment as they did when they bought their first. For a lot of seniors, being told they can’t drive any more is essentially being told they’ve got one foot in the grave and one foot on a banana peel.

Not fun.

As a society, we must give mobility for seniors the same importance as we do other aspects of that period of life. There are more than 3.5 million drivers over the age of 65 in Canada. We need to develop effective and humane ways to help those who are safe drivers stay active and assist those who are no longer able to retain a comparable level of mobility.

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