It’s said that in Florida bars catering for retirees a top pick-up line is: “I’ve still got my driver’s license.” Say you get lucky and someone very appealing is telling you, as per the Beatles song: “Baby you can drive my car – and maybe I’ll love you!” It would be a real downer to then have to explain that actually, your kids colluded with the motor vehicle licensing department and got your driver’s license revoked.
There are lots of jokes about elderly drivers and with their numbers set to skyrocket over the next 20 years in the US and Europe, there are certain to be lots more. Most are at our expense so they don’t bear repeating here. Except perhaps to note that many jokes reveal a common complaint against us: driving too slowly, with indicators flashing but no turn intended.
Since the first week of December is Older Driver Safety Awareness Week in the US, and people around the world are worrying about driving skills worsening with age, My New Old Self thought it time to reflect on this issue.
Clearly there’s a need to reduce casualties from car accidents when older people are at the wheel, which is the main aim of initiatives like this week’s focus on older drivers. Statistics show that older drivers are more likely to be involved in crashes, especially at intersections. The risk starts escalating at age 65, increases sharply from 75, and the fatality rate for drivers from 85 is nine times as high as the rate for drivers 25-69 years old. And of course, it’s not just people our age who are getting hurt and even killed, but anyone who gets in the way of our wheels.
What are the reasons for these scary stats? We know that our eyesight has worsened with age, that reaction times slow down, and we can become more forgetful. (And also more easily distracted – but how does that compare with all those young people checking Facebook on their cellphones while driving?)
Three behavioral factors in particular may contribute to these statistics: poor judgment in making left-hand* turns; drifting within the traffic lane; and decreased ability to change behavior in response to an unexpected or rapidly changing situation… Statistics, based on all people injured or killed in traffic crashes, indicate that older drivers are at a disproportionate risk for becoming involved in fatal crashes.
*Presumably the above reference to left-hand turns applies in countries where the steering wheel is on the left and driving is done on the right, so that where the opposite applies (e.g. UK, South Africa) the problem would be with right-hand turns?
Given this evidence, as we age we should expect more mandatory driving tests, re-testing and ‘deficit screening’ after crashes, as well as requirements for doctors to report health issues that may compromise driving ability. We can also expect senior citizen lobbying groups to argue that these measures constitute age discrimination. And family members to lobby parents and grandparents to stop driving.
My New Old Self is interested in the secondary goal of Older Driver Safety Awareness Week: helping older people to “continue to drive as long as safely possible while sharing information to help prepare them for the day when they retire from driving… and to maintain quality of life after driving cessation”.
Whatever euphemism you use – driving cessation or perhaps auto retirement – it can obviously be a big blow to one’s self-esteem to have to stop driving yourself around. Many of us got our driver’s licenses decades ago and have been relying on our cars to get to work, go shopping and visit people and places ever since. To suddenly have to rely on others to get around can make anyone feel uncomfortably dependent, or even trapped.
It may help to remember that driving is a privilege, not a right. There are many privileges that we can cherish forever, no matter how old we are, but driving a car is not one of them.
For those of us still, driving – concentrate! And enjoy it while you still can. For those who’ve chosen, or been forced, to turn in the car keys, maybe it’s time for some reminiscing about driving in the good ol’ days…