We continue to get mail about testing senior drivers...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 2001

RAY: We've been inundated by mail about whether older drivers should be tested to make sure they still have the vision, judgment and physical abilities necessary to drive a car. Most of the mail has supported our position that testing after a certain age makes sense -- but not all of it. Here's an example:

Dear Tom and Ray:

Every so often, someone gets the brilliant idea that all we have to do to stop auto accidents is to get senior drivers off the road. Do me a favor -- the next time you are on the road for an hour or so, have your passenger count the number of drivers who are: driving too fast, driving too slow, following too close, not using turn signals, reading a book, eating, drinking, talking on a cell phone, putting on their makeup, combing their hair, weaving in and out of traffic and generally not following the rules of the road. Then tell me how many of those drivers were over 65 years of age. The point is, if you are willing to live with the carnage caused by this bunch of airheads, then get out of my face. -- Harry
TOM: Harry, just because we can't solve all the problems on the road at once, does that mean we shouldn't solve any of them? You know we're completely opposed to talking on a cell phone while driving.
RAY: For the record, we're also against driving too fast, driving too slow, following too close, not using turn signals, reading a book, eating, drinking, putting on makeup and hair-styling while driving. And we're also for testing people's driving skills as they age, because that's part of the problem.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I am a retired Army transportation officer. I have trained and tested many drivers of military wheeled vehicles. The program for testing senior drivers could use the same tests we used in the Army. There were four stations: 1. Depth perception. 2. Peripheral vision. 3. Reaction time. 4. Steering reaction and ability. I am a senior, and I well realize that in a few years I should be tested to assure that I am still fit to drive -- for my own safety and for that of those with whom I share the roadway. I am in favor of testing seniors because I have seen too many who I feel have lost the ability to drive safely. Perhaps a study of senior testing could be promoted to establish the limits and standards which they need to satisfy for license renewal. I will welcome such a program, even though I know that surrendering my driver's license will be a traumatic experience. -- James
RAY: It is traumatic, because it signals the end of independence. Thanks for the practical suggestion, James. Here's another interesting part of the issue:

Dear Tom and Ray:

It's no secret that many seniors are unable to drive as well as they once could. That's why they pay the same insurance premiums as drivers under 25. Of course many of them shouldn't be driving! For every 77-year-old like my grandfather, who drives 25K a year and does it better than most of us, there are a bunch of seniors driving their Crown Victorias 40 mph over two lanes of I-95. But guess what? Our autocentric development of the past 50 years doesn't just mean that seniors lose personal freedom when they stop driving. It means that they lose their very ability to be self-sufficient. They can only look forward to years of dependence followed by death. What we really should be asking is not whether senior drivers should be tested, but why we have created a society where those without cars cannot live meaningful lives outside of a few crumbling (or gentrified) downtowns. -- Rob
RAY: An excellent point. One of the real barriers to taking away an elderly parent's license (even when you know you should) is that the parent then becomes completely dependent and isolated. And that leads most people into decline.
TOM: Assisted living is great, but it's not always available, affordable or located in populated areas where a person can have contact with everybody, not just other older folks. Some people are lucky enough to have access to good public transportation or senior-transport services (for more information, see the pamphlet "Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully" at this somewhat incomprehensible Web address: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/olddrive/DrivingSafelyAgingWeb/in...). But you're right, Rob. The senior-driving problem is also an urban-planning problem. Who knew?

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