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Front Page » September 11, 2008 » Senior scene » Changing perceptions about older drivers
Published 2,581 days ago

Changing perceptions about older drivers

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There has long been talk of mandatory license retesting every two years after a person reaches age 75. That is due to the perception that seniors present an increased risk on the road. Many areas of the country do, in fact, mandate retesting. And across the United States, 11 percent of Americans feel that seniors are a risk to road safety.

However, recent findings from "Drive for Life: The National Safe Driving Test and Initiative," has uncovered information that just may change popular opinion.

Drive for Life, in conjunction with Volvo and notable agencies, conducted a poll of 1,100 licensed drivers by telephone nationwide.

The results indicated that aggressive driving and driving while distracted are some of the largest causes of accidents. Seniors actually rank lowest in these two categories.

The most common forms of unsafe driving include the following.

•Driving above the speed limit.

•Eating while driving.

•Using a cell phone while driving.

•Failing to make a complete stop at a stop sign.

•Driving while emotionally upset or drowsy.

•Running a yellow or red light

In regard to the top offense, speeding, most respondents (88 percent) said that driving five miles above the speed limit is perfectly acceptable, and more than half said that driving 10 miles above is all right.

As emerging technology continues to flourish, drivers are presented with even more reasons to take their eyes off the road. Apart from cell phone conversations, many respondents admitted to distracting behavior while driving. This includes everything from text messaging to adjusting the CD or DVD player to consulting a GPS system to reading. Others said that a romantic moment has competed with their attention while driving.

The youngest drivers, those ages 16 to 20, are the most likely to be distracted by technological gadgets, according to the poll. Seniors reported some of the lowest numbers.

For older people sometimes the question is raised as to when they should give up driving. Despite the overall low number of accidents related to seniors, there are many who voluntarily give up driving or are prodded to by relatives. For many seniors who have been driving since their licenses were first issued at age 16 or 17, driving represents mobility and freedom, something many are reticent to give up so easily. However, there are some signs that may indicate driving is a potential hazard no matter what age. These include feeling uncomfortable or not confident behind the wheel, getting disoriented with locations and directions, failing vision that makes reading signage or seeing other cars difficult, poor physical health or impeded mobility that prevents the split-second reflexes needed for accident avoidance, a medical reason that makes driving unsafe, mistaking the gas for the brake pedal or other disorientation with car directionals or features, and too many close calls.

Younger relatives can provide assistance in determining driving ability. If a problem is suspected, ask to ride along with a senior driver to see first hand. Also, seniors should be open minded enough to admit to weaknesses.

By recognizing abilities (or inabilities), coming up with a safe and acceptable situation for all is much more possible.

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September 11, 2008
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