Monday, 16 December 2013
Driving While Old
Aside from dementia, nothing at the moment frightens me more than losing driving privileges. Even if you live in a place with good public transportation such as New York City or Portland, Oregon, it's not the same.
There are half a dozen food markets in my area; each has its advantages and drawbacks so I shop them all. Not all at once and not all in one day but regularly, depending on what I want or need.
Only one is within walking distance and whether walking or riding a bus, I wouldn't always be able to carry all I want so without a car, I would to without some things I would like to have.
And that's just food. It's quite a trek by bus to other places I want to go sometimes – a certain kind of shopping, a restaurant, movie theaters, physician, etc. - and some of those would require changing buses at least once and more than a hour's travel compared to 15-20 minutes by car.
On Saturday, The New York Times published an excellent story about efforts being made to help keep elders driving for as long as possible:
”Instead of handing over his keys, though, Mr. Cullon, who lives in Albany, decided to consult a driving rehabilitation specialist.
She rode with him, observing how well he used his feet, how good his reflexes were and how good his range of motion was in his shoulders and neck. Then she pronounced him fit to take the wheel.”
Times reporter, Alina Tugend, writes that according to the National Transportation Safety Administration, there are currently 35 million licensed drivers older than 65 and that scares a lot of people. However, writes Tugend,
”...the common perception, that the only real choice is between ignoring the difficulties faced by elderly drivers and taking away the car keys, is wrong.
“'We’re evolving in our thinking,' said Jodi Olshevski, a gerontologist and executive director of the Hartford insurance company’s Center for Mature Market Excellence.
"'We’re not just looking at the transition from driver to passenger, but how we can empower drivers to extend their driving as long as possible.'”
And here is a fact you might have guessed if you have been reading TimeGoesBy for any length of time: just as individual people age at dramatically different rates from one another, so it is with elders' driving skills. As AAA spokesperson, Sharon Gilmartin told Tugend:
“'A 50-year-old driver may not be safe, and a 95-year-old driver may function perfectly,' she said. 'Driving is a function of ability, not age.'”
Here's what else Gilmartin told the Times reporter about age-related accident rates:
“'From 65 to 70 years old, you’re looking at rates similar to middle-aged drivers,' she said. In fact, older drivers are often safer, because they are less likely to speed, drive drunk or text while driving.
“But per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase beginning at age 75 and rise sharply after age 80. That’s not necessarily because older people have more accidents but because they are more fragile and less likely to recover from serious injuries, Ms. Gilmartin said.
“Teenagers are much more likely to kill someone else in a crash; older adults are far more likely to kill themselves.”
So in addition to help from driving rehabilitation specialists, experts are leaning on technical improvements to automobiles to help elders drive longer. A couple of years ago during a visit to Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan, I experienced one of those improvements – the self-parking feature:
Many more are being incorporated into new cars every year – smart headlights, reverse monitoring systems, blindspot warning systems and more that you can read about here.
Like elder-targeted safety measures in other parts of life - grab bars in the bathroom are an example - what is good for old people is always and equally good for younger people too. All these improvements auto manufacturers are inventing are good for everyone.
I'm sorry I will not be in the market for a new car any time soon or, perhaps, ever. My 2004 PT Cruiser with 36,000 miles is doing to just fine (she said, frantically knocking wood) and buying another would be a huge financial stretch.
A lot of people and organizations are making other kinds of serious efforts to help aging drivers stay safely on the road for as long as possible.
After several years of study, The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has just issued an Older Driver Traffic Safety Plan. You can read it here.
The MIT Age Lab working with the Hartford insurance company has developed a series of exercise videos with instructions on maintaining physical strength, range of motion, coordination and flexibility that will help keep elders driving longer. You can see those here.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has just published a state-by-state list of license renewal requirements and other provisions for elder drivers that you can see here.
Most of all, I urge you to read Alina Tugend's entire Times story. It is thorough, informative and cogent and I am pleased to know that there are knowledgeable, accomplished people who are thoughtfully working to help keep me driving for as long as I can safely do it.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: Strider's Surprise