Sunday, July 20, 2008

Safety first

People of all ages have traffic accidents. We all make mistakes. Young people have their own set of driving issues, but they generally get better behind the wheel as they age. The people who really worry me are the elderly drivers. It's a pretty regular occurrence to see a story about a senior citizen who hit the gas instead of the brake and ended up driving through the front of a business or over a ravine. Or, worse, they plow into a crowd, maiming and killing people. The drivers frequently claim their brakes failed. Right. I've been driving for close to 35 years, and never once have mine failed. There was even a case some years ago in which an elderly couple from the Pittsburgh area who were traveling to a nearby medical appointment disappeared. Panicked family members called police, who finally found them driving at a snail's pace in the passing lane of a major highway ... in Detroit! The latest story that caught my eye came out of Texas, where police say a 70-year-old Houston man caused a fatal rollover accident by making an illegal turn, then started an eight-car wreck a few hours later by plowing into a stopped vehicle. The AP reports that a medical advisory board will determine whether Isaac Melvin Milstid should have his driver's license pulled. "To be running at a high rate of speed and not see vehicles stopped in front of him raises questions on Mr. Milstid's ability to drive safely," said Kent Havard, chief of police in Diboll, Texas. You've got that right, chief. Havard added that taking Milstid's case before the medical board is a rare move. It shouldn't be. The AARP might not like this, but there are many drivers of advancing years who pose a deadly hazard every time they get behind the wheel. It's a fact that people's physical and cognitive abilities generally decline with age. Some people seem to defy the effects of aging, but most don't. What we need is a national requirement for periodic retesting of every driver beyond the age of 65. It won't be that many more years before I reach that milestone, and I have no objection to proving my fitness for the road and helping to pay the cost to implement such a program. People complain that taking licenses from the elderly poses a hardship, preventing them from getting around and stealing their freedom. Well, I think that's a lot better than having one of them run over a bunch of kids on a playground.



Blogger PRIguy said...

My grandfather and his second wife came to visit us in Taylorstown about once a month back in the late Seventies. They lived just outside of Pittsburgh. At the time, he was 89 and she was 85 years old. Her hearing was fading quickly and his vision was much more than merely impaired. He was slowly going blind. This didn't stop them from making the 50-mile trek on their own.

One Sunday evening, they were driving home on the interstate. Construction on Interstate 70 was in full swing (this project started about the time unrest in the Middle East began), and the state police were diverting traffic down to one lane in preparation for some overnight road repairs.

My grandfather was quite surprised when, several miles after the traffic diversion, he noticed flashing lights in his mirror. He finally pulled over. The trooper asked if he noticed the bright orange cones a few miles back, and my grandfather sheepishly told him that he had not. His wife missed them too.

The trooper was obviously stunned and exasperated when my grandfather explained to him that he didn't see too well, but that his wife's eyes were quite adequate and she told him exactly when to move right, left, slow down, speed up and so on. He told the trooper that since her hearing was fading, he paid attention to things like sirens. Long story short, his license was revoked and he never drove again. He died three years later.

On the other hand, my mother (his daughter) still drives at the age of 81. However, she goes only to church and to Shop N Save. She won't drive in the rain, fog or snow. She will not go on the interstate, she will not even go onto Route 40...too many lanes and cars. Every year, she takes a "safe driver course" for elderly people. She always passes, but has assured me and my siblings that if she does fail, she will sell her car and stop driving. She's quite well aware that she's old, slow, and that times have changed and the world moves much faster now. I give her credit for that.

I'm approaching my 50s, and I consider myself a fairly good driver. I haven't had an accident in thirty years, nor a ticket in 20 years. However, I have no problem taking a test to prove my ability behind the wheel, to justify my right to drive.

I'm not a mechanical type, so I welcome an annual state inspection for my car to find problems I'd otherwise have no idea about. By the same token, I have no problem having a professional assessment to assure me that I'm still sharp enough to drive and maintain the right to keep my license. It's a good idea.

July 20, 2008 at 5:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll go one step further and say that ALL drivers, regardless of age, should be tested at regular intervals, maybe every 15 years. Just because you could drive when you were16 doesn't mean that health or mental issues haven't diminished your capacity by the time you're 30.

July 21, 2008 at 9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the picture. Is he driving a Buick? I swear they all drive Buicks.


July 21, 2008 at 12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only thing wrong with the picture is that this guy can see over the steering wheel.

July 22, 2008 at 9:52 AM  
Anonymous The Pittsburgh Rare | Pittsburgh Real Estate said...

A CMU study showed that fatality rates for drivers begin to climb after age 65 and skyrockets for divers 85 and older. Not surprising at all, so mandatory retesting seems like a no-brainer.

July 22, 2008 at 1:47 PM  
Anonymous Captain said...

My wife tells me that even at 42 i cannot drive to her liking. But she is a country driver and I, a city driver so it would make sense we would disagree.

As for regular driving checkups it makes sense. do we not get wellness checkup for our children, or regular physicals as adults? If society were still driving horse and buggies the medical checkups would not be required. But now our horse can reach 100+ MPH and are alot heavier. Should we not come forward to the 21st century already?

I believe there is a device that will tell whether any person has the skills to be allowed to drive. It identifies, eye locations (where they are looking) and measures all the vehicles systems -- kinda like a black box -- if these were in all cars, we could get all the idiotic, unsafe drivers off the roads.

The freedoms of being elderly i cannot comprehend just yet. But I would not want to have those freedoms removed without due cause. Growing old should be not a crime, just an event we must go through if we are fortunate enough to live so long. I truly hope I live long enough to have my livense revoked for such inabilities. But have it revoked before I am the cause of any accident of any kind.

July 23, 2008 at 8:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am 60 and have seen a tremendous variation in the abilities of my friends. Some began to suffer noticeable declines in vision, hearing, and reaction time by the time they were in their late 40s, others are alert and excellent drivers well into their 70s. Personally, I think it has a lot to do with lifestyle. Among the people I know, those who lose those abilities early are the ones who used tobacco, abused alcohol, didnt eat a healthy diet or exercise every day, or a combination of the above. The same processes which clog up the arteries leading to your heart, brain and genitals (ED is also, in my opinion, a function of lifestyle), destroy your reaction time and senses.

Having said all that, I think older drivers, maybe starting at 50, should be retested every 5 years, but their driving test should be different from the ones given to new drivers. Take them out on a country road and make sure they are able to drive at least 50mph, recognize stop signs and maybe a traffic light. If you cant comfortably drive at least 50 in daylight on dry pavement in the absense of much traffic, you are a danger on the road.

July 24, 2008 at 10:59 PM  

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