Jerry Davich: Older drivers need to admit their skills are decaying
Jerry Davich firstname.lastname@example.org July 27, 2012 11:18PM
Updated: August 29, 2012 6:02AM
The late model sedan crawled in front of my car like a snail on a sedative as we approached the busy stoplight.
After the light turned green, the sedan didn’t budge. I tried to get a look at the driver but all I could see was a little tuft of white hair poking above the headrest. Uh-oh, I thought to myself.
Finally, after a few seconds, the sedan began to c-r-a-w-l again. Oh. My. God. I had enough.
I was late for an appointment. I zipped around the car and took a peek at its driver, if only to confirm my suspicions. Sure enough, I was right. An elderly driver.
I didn’t say anything or do anything. Heck, I didn’t even honk my horn (I rarely do unless I feel I may be hit). But this wasn’t the first time, or the fifth time, that such an incident happened to me involving elderly drivers.
I also can’t help but notice the many crashes, accidents, and near-misses involving older drivers these days, across the region and across the country.
The old lady who drove into a building (“I thought I pushed the brake pedal.”) The old man who drove the wrong way on an expressway. And the older gent who struck and killed a motorcyclist.
The only drivers who scare me more are teen drivers who just got behind the wheel.
Many of them treat their vehicle (usually their parent’s vehicle) like their newest toy even though it can travel up to 100 miles per hour. Jackrabbit starts. Hitting the brakes hard. Speeding everywhere, from stop sign to stop sign. Vrooooooooom, whee!
Elderly drivers are a different danger and, although I run the risk of angering many of my regular readers, something has to be said about their deteriorating driving habits. That’s right, I went there and said it. Someone needs to.
Police officers who routinely respond to crashes involving elderly drivers tell me they don’t think this generation of older motorists is any more dangerous than previous generations.
But I believe it’s getting more dangerous on our highways, byways, and even side streets as our country’s population gets grayer each year. Over the next 30 years or so, the number of Americans age 65 and older (including me) is expected to double, which doesn’t bode well for other, younger drivers.
Studies show that the likelihood and frequency of traffic crashes spikes when drivers hit that age, and the statistics spike more for older drivers, ages 70, 80, and 90, respectively. It’s just common sense. Although I feel I’m still on top of my game at age 50, I’m sure my overall skills are not as sharp as when I was, say, 30 or 40.
Yet I still see elderly drivers — who clearly pose dangerous traffic situations — refusing to give up their driving “privilege” even after several close calls, such as swiping curbs, backing into trees, or crashing into things along their path.
I don’t blame them for refusing to stop driving, which is synonymous with independence in our car-happy country.
Forget about giving up my gun “when you pry it from my cold, dead hands,” as the National Rifle Association slogan once popularized.
That’s exactly how I imagine I will feel about my beloved and symbolic car keys when that time comes. I hope I will be more mature at my more mature age and I will smartly, and safely, stop driving on my own.
My great-grandmother, for example, first stopped driving at night, then on major roadways during daytime hours, and then she stopped driving entirely.
Other older drivers don’t exhibit such self-restricting responsibility until they return home missing a hubcap, scrapes on the side of their car, or followed by a police car.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, written and driving-skills testing is not mandatory to renew an Indiana driver’s license, except in specific situations.
Older drivers have to only pass a vision screening test and their driver’s license is then valid for shorter terms (three years for 75 to 85 years old; two years for 85 years and older).
However, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles has a system in place, based on state law, allowing Hoosiers to anonymously report a driver who they feel should not be behind the steering wheel.
The “Request for Driver Ability Review” form is available on the BMV’s website, http://www.in.gov/bmv.
“Once received, the BMV reviews it and may send a medical packet to the driver,” said BMV spokeswoman Julie Fletcher.
“This medical packet must be completed by a physician and sent back to the BMV within 30 days.”
The BMV’s medical advisory board then reviews the information and provides a recommendation if the driver should continue driving. In most cases, this process includes passing a driving skills test and that’s all I’m suggesting here today.
Like many issues I write about, this one meets at the contentious intersection of personal responsibility and public safety.
Though I’m sure many older drivers may take offense to this sensitive issue — “I’ve been driving since YOU were born, young man!” — all I’m suggesting is that these suspect drivers admit to themselves that their driving skills have diminished to the point of being dangerous, to them and to others.
Also, that their younger loved ones take responsibility, too, by at least monitoring older motorists’ driving habits. Maybe quietly and respectfully shadowing grandma as she drives to bingo night at church? Or following grandpa to the VFW and back?
If they swerve, sideswipe, or bump into anything along the way, at least have a chat with them to bring it to their attention.
I know it’s tough to do but imagine your conversation if they happen to hit someone without realizing what they’ve done.
Most of these drivers have stellar driving records over the course of decades. And amazingly so.
Why jeopardize this, and the safety of others, by parking this touchy topic in the garage of silence?
Listen to Jerry’s Olympic-sized “Casual Fridays” radio show today at noon on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.thelakeshorefm.com.