5/22/2012 2:44 PM ET|
In defense of older drivers
An 80-year old academic takes on critics of seniors who continue to drive: 'Unlike younger drivers, older drivers are a danger mainly to themselves,' he says.
At 80, Ezra Hauer finds it more difficult to drive at night, so he tries to avoid it. He does not, however, want to give up on driving altogether or to pass a regular battery of tests at the government's request. "There's no reason to single out older drivers for this treatment," says Hauer, who has just made his case for this position in a scientific journal.
Hauer, a professor emeritus in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Toronto, has spent 40 years studying roadway design and safety. Earlier this year, he published "In defence of older drivers" in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, contending that statistics used to paint older drivers as menaces to society have been misinterpreted. "It's said that older drivers have a higher risk of fatal crash involvement than any other population, including teenagers," Hauer said in an interview. "Policies are based on this misconception, and I have tried to set the record straight."
According to the statistics presented in Hauer's paper, the only groups of people to have more than 10 crashes for every million miles they drive are people ages 16 to 19 and those 82 and older. People in their 30s, 40s, and 50s tend to have half as many accidents. When you look at fatalities, though, older drivers suffer five, six and seven times as much as their middle-aged counterparts, depending on how you slice the age groups.
Hauer chalks up the higher fatality figures not so much to worse driving but rather to the fact that older people are more likely to die in a crash because they're frailer than the rest of the population. Seniors also tend to do most of their driving close to home, rather than on safer freeways, which skews the number of crashes per mile higher. "Old farts that we are, we also tend to report the accidents more often," Hauer says. "Young bucks tend not to report."
Hauer based his findings on years of data collected on U.S. traffic accidents. Researchers have long used the same figures to show that people in their 70s and 80s tend to have similar driving statistics to reckless teenagers. But Hauer points out that when fatal crashes involving seniors occur, it is usually the senior who dies -- and not the other party. "Unlike younger drivers, older drivers are a danger mainly to themselves," he writes.
Regulations vary, but older drivers in some states must now pass medical tests, renew more frequently and take other tests to keep their licenses. This irks Hauer. "The government control measures argue that we cannot drive safely because we have cataracts, heart disease and dementia -- there is a big hysteria," he says. "There is a prejudice against older drivers because we take a long time to decide and our reflexes are not what they used to be. That's really beside the point."
Older drivers, like anyone else, simply adjust their driving to their abilities and road conditions, Hauer says. They drive slower, drive more during the daytime and don't drink and drive. "It's the young bucks who have to chase tail and go and get drunk," Hauer says. He adds that when you normalize driving patterns of younger drivers to those of seniors, "Older drivers have a somewhat higher accident rate but not a dramatically higher rate."
The Canadian Medical Association Journal clearly had a concern or two about Hauer's paper. It published a call for "graduated" driver's licenses next to the defense of older drivers. This paper pitches license restrictions as a blissful return to youth in which older drivers can mimic the young by being allowed to drive only during certain parts of the day and at certain speeds. "Just like graduated licenses for young drivers, the principle is to prevent trauma rather than to await a series of incidents before taking any action," the paper says. "The optimal transition time would be debatable, but might be based on a specific age, retirement or other benchmarks."
To this, Hauer replies, "I am not very hopeful that my message will sink in."
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I think that trying to minimize this issue by saying that it's more often that older drivers end up killing themselves in at fault collisions, is a nonstarter. Who wants to lose a parent or grandparent like this? And more often than not, the incidents are extremely serious. I know where I live (Edmonton, Alberta) there have been multiple incidents of seniors getting confused and going on to freeways the wrong way via off ramps. The resulting head on collisions were not pretty.
I understand the pride factor here, but definitive steps need to be taken to get unqualified older drivers off the road, period.
There should be a mandatory driving test every 5 years for everyone with a license. We all know that older drivers aren't the only issue. The young females trying to text on the highway and who can't parallel park in a double parking spot in zero traffic are a huge part of it too - no need to single out just one group.
Age wise, I would say that drivers between 16 and 30 are the most frequent offenders, and of that group, 75% are women. And the women are the by far the nastiest; I have actually been physically been bumped twice by cars; both times by women (one on her phone), and both gave ME the finger! For the most part the men and seniors that give a scare or block the crosswalks will either back up, or at least make apologetic gestures with more than one digit.
Driving is not a right, it is a privilege, but to pedestrians and lawful bicyclists that is up for debate. When under leg power, I will take senior/mature drivers and ANYONE not on a Cell phone, over younger drivers (especially female) any day; I would like to live to walk again...
I am 60 and very trained behind a wheel, I do agree that granny driving in the left lane 20mhph below speed is a hazard that frustrates many but you may also be supprised how many young females will cut you off, flip you off, run a red light anything and everything else to show their authority. Is it because they give a cop their number or what?
Older generations: we realize you probably still can think and reason fairly well. But that does not mean you are still a good driver.
I am a 31 year old college professor in Texas. I drive a classic motorcycle to work everyday. Driving a motorcycle, in which there are fewer distractions I have noticed quite a few things. The first is that most of the people using cell phones are not teenagers or young adults. I contribute this to the fact that they have grown up in a smart phone driven era and are preached to not text and drive or talk and drive. You see a lot of them using blue-tooth technology which is very safe. However, I have noticed that there are exceptions to the rule and if it is a car of teenagers I know to stay away on my bike because they are usually distracted by the passengers. This is why a lot of states have regulated the number of passengers young drivers can have with them. The ones that have poor driving due to cell phones are people in my age group and above. With the advanced technology being sold in most new cars now bluetooth should take care of this problem. Everyday I notice poor drivers and am very diligent in avoiding them. I can not avoid them all, I do have to say I have been very lucky and have not been in any kind of accident. I have come close, actually 8 times this past two years. Of those 8 only one was due to a driver on a phone, that person was a middle aged women, trying to put make-up on and talking on her cell phone. The other 7 were all people over the age of 60 who simply were not aware of me or anyone else being on the road. The closest was on the highway, I was passing the driver who was coming up on a slow moving truck and she tried to change lanes on me. No I was not in her blind spot I was right next to her, if she had any kind of peripheral vision she would have been able to see the back of my shiny bright yellow helmet. She started changing lanes, I honked my horn and of course she couldn't hear it. I could not brake because there was someone behind me. I had to kick her car door twice for her to notice me and not run me off the highway. I felt bad for her because she started crying. I would not be opposed to having a set age at which testing would start, I have noticed that my physical skills driving are not as good as they were ten years ago and if I was a danger I would not be on the road or want to be. Officers also need to crack down harder on cell phones and text messages while driving. I will leave you with this fun fact that a Texas DPS officer told me, most of the drivers on the highway over the age of 65 are driving with expired licenses and the reason is that most are afraid of having to take a driving knowledge test or driving test to renew the license, the others simply are unaware that the license has expired or simply think that they no longer have to obey the laws. The Texas DPS is thinking about cracking down very hard on these drivers.
I am 82 soon to be 83. My current license does not expire until my 85th birthday.
I intend to request both the written and the physical driving test at that time and even though not required to do so, I will surrender my driving license if I fail either of these tests. I do not wish to be a danger to anyone because of my insistence on driving when I know as a result of testing, that I am no longer qualified to drive safely.
I know very few my age who agree with me and are determined to continue driving. Lets face it, it is the lack of freedom to move about that forces the ageing to accept that their journey through life is almost over and most refuse to accept that status.
I have had many limits placed on me as I have aged, but I have still managed to enjoy my life and I will not let a limit on my driving define the reminder of my life and the joy of living.
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