Monday, 21 August 2006
Online Elder-Drivers Safety Course
Not long ago, amba of ambivablog sent Crabby Old Lady an email with a bunch of age jokes. Yes, Crabby will publish them soon, but today she is concerned only with one of them:
“I've sure gotten old! I've had two bypass surgeries, a hip replacement, new knees. Fought prostate cancer and diabetes. I'm half blind, can't hear anything quieter than a jet engine, take 40 different medications that make me dizzy, winded, and subject to blackouts.
“Have bouts with dementia. Have poor circulation; hardly feel my hands and feet anymore. Can't remember if I'm 85 or 92. Have lost all my friends. But, thank God, I still have my driver's license.”
Crabby laughed out loud when she got to the punch line. It’s funny. But it also points up the serious matter of elder driving. It is one thing to restrict driving to those who are at least 16, an age when teens have gained a modicum of adult judgment. Children and adolescents age at a predictable rate, within a few months of one another, so establishing a universal driving age at that end of life is fair.
Elders, however, age physically and cognitively at dramatically different rates. Some 60-year-olds can no longer safely drive. Some 80-somethings can. And that presents a dilemma.
It would be unfair - and counterproductive - to impose an arbitrary age at which drivers must turn in their keys, but some elders, understandably desperate to maintain the freedom an automobile lends, continue to drive past their capability to do so safely. Unfortunately, age doesn’t automatically confer wisdom or nobility and as the number of elders increases in coming years, so too will the number of unsafe elder drivers.
What worries Crabby is that in their zeal to protect citizens from all possible dangers, states will set an arbitrary stop-driving age. Already there is media creep toward such a move with increasing numbers of national news stories about elder auto accidents with no equivalent reporting on teen or midlife crashes.
Some states already require more frequent vision and driving tests after age 60 or 65, and that is one good step. Another, as we have discussed here before, is to monitor ourselves, our friends and relatives.
Now, AARP has launched an online driver’s safety program, a tool that should be a boon as a refresher course to help keep elders’ driving skills in top shape.
Only the online part is new. Since 1979, more than 10 million Americans have completed the program in classroom settings where, AARP says, elder students have learned how to compensate for age-related changes while extending their safe-driving lifetime by many years.
The AARP Driver Safety Online Course
There is good news and bad news about this course. The good news is that it is packed with valuable information, self-assessment tools, facts about elder drivers, graded quizzes and strategies to compensate for the normal physical changes that accompany aging. Plus, completion of the course (for which a certificate is issued) may, in some states, qualify elders for a discount on auto insurance.
Crabby Old Lady has no doubt about AARP’s claim that the course can extend driving capability by years. The information is excellent, Crabby learned a lot and that’s why the bad news about it makes her angry. The course is so poorly executed that it would be easy to believe the producers had never heard of the internet, let alone have any knowledge of how people use it.
There is so much wrong with the interactive presentation that Crabby can only list highlights (well, make that lowlights). The following critique is harsh, but it is not unfair:
- AARP states that the course takes eight hours. That will be off-putting to many, but if they scrapped the unnecessary repetition, excruciatingly slow page transitions, superfluous press agentry and improved the page layouts and navigation, anyone could finish the course in two hours.
- On many pages, navigational function is disabled so users cannot move forward at their own pace and are forced to listen to the word-for-word narration of the bullet points they finished reading 15 seconds ago.
- In regard to narration, the course makes the number one worst mistake of all Powerpoint-type presentations: reading the bullet points. Bullets are meant to reinforce major points; narration should give a fuller explanation of the information on the page. Otherwise, what is the narration for?
- Opposing that problem, some of the animations move so quickly there is no time to absorb them, and as the navigation is either too complex or non-functional (Crabby hasn’t figured out which), it is difficult, if not impossible to back up.
- Some of the problems can be categorized only as inane: On one quiz, Crabby was told how many answers she got correct, but not which ones and the navigation, again, made it impossible to back up to the questions which a user should not be required to do anyway.
- Sometimes, it is just nonsensical. On a self-assessment quiz in which the possible answers were Always, Frequently, Occasionally and Never, Crabby was (apparently, although it is hard to know), marked down for answering “Occasionally” to the statement: “I notice other drivers honking their horns at me.” Crabby guesses the idea is that unless the answer chosen is “Never,” driving too slowly is an issue, but that is not explained. And, it is obvious the question writer has never been to New York City where horn honking says everything about the honker and nothing about the honkee.
- On another quiz, Crabby was told her score was 9 and that the higher her score, the more need there is to reassess her driving skills. Fine, except did Crabby get a 9 on a scale of ten or on scale of 100? A stupid error that renders the test useless.
- There is another useless and time-consuming, multiple-choice quiz about the most common faults of elder drivers. Such questions test only whether the student has read the latest research and have no bearing on his or her driving capabilities. There are many better ways to present such information.
It is hard to imagine how an interactive course could get so much wrong – and Crabby has hardly scratched the surface. In general, the entire course is so poorly written that many opportunities to reinforce important points are lost. The design is stodgy, so internet-1999 that Crabby was reminded of film strips she suffered through in school in the 1950s. And she hasn’t even touched on the grammatical errors which become more evident with each enforced wait period.
Elder driving safety is too serious, too important to be presented with this much shoddiness. Although Crabby Old Lady has been creating and running websites with interactive components for more than a decade and knows how to work around some of the obstacles, most elders don’t have Crabby’s experience and will be confused, frustrated and quit part way through the course.
What makes all this worse is that AARP is charging for this wholly inadequate product: $12.95 for AARP members, $15.95 for non-members. Personally, I think elder driver education is so important that even if the execution of the course were excellent, it should be free at least to AARP members.
In an era where too many elders are cutting pills in half because they can’t afford their prescription drugs and are undoubtedly cutting their driving in half too, such an important course should be made available to everyone. Crabby Old Lady would happily pay another dollar a year for her membership if AARP would upgrade the course to meet normal interactive quality standards and offer it for free.
The bind Crabby finds herself in with this story is that because the information contained in the driving course is exceptionally good, she wants to recommend (nay, demand if she could) that everyone 50 and older take the course and – AARP doesn’t say this – repeat it annually. But that is hard to do for all the reasons above.