Older Drivers: Should They Be Tested?

Some call it profiling. Some call it discrimination. Some call it stereotyping.

Some call it “Grandma, you can’t keep ripping off my metropolitan phonebook in order to see over the steering wheel!”

Whatever one’s gut reaction to the issue of older drivers, the aging of the vast Baby Boom generation demands that the subject be discussed, in order to achieve a balance between road safety and harmonious, productive “golden years.”

Sadly, society has found it difficult to conduct a meaningful dialogue about the potential dangers. Seniors’ knee-jerk reaction is to dwell on how much better they drive than teenagers. Thoughtful seniors will concede that there is a certain unfairness to challenging someone to a urination contest when you haven’t quite got your incontinency medication right.

The debate is clouded by the fact that all drivers are different and no age group has a monopoly on driving skills. Older drivers are superior in many aspects of the task, but studies have shown a frightening dimension to their road rage. (“Dadgummit, tomatoes just don’t taste like they did when I was growing up — and SOMEBODY is going to pay!!!”)

Studies show that seniors have a slower reaction time when faced with glaring headlights and other distractions. I don’t mean to question the researchers, but many of the elderly are still adept at snap decisions. (“So this is your new girlfriend. She has tattoos. That means she’s a prostitute!”)

The ability to continue driving is important to the DIGNITY of seniors. They can regale their passengers with dignified stories of “Did I ever tell you what my friends and I did at WOODSTOCK? We were still laughing about that when we bought our first polyester leisure suits and platform shoes. Breaker, breaker, good buddy. Are you still listening back there?”

According to USA Today, more than 600,000 drivers age 70 and above voluntarily take themselves off the road each year. We need to help seniors recognize the tell-tale signs that they need to shift to a less independent lifestyle. If you drive while talking on the phone — the LAND-LINE phone — it’s probably time to hang up the keys. If you dutifully look both ways at an intersection — because you never know when the Pony Express could come by — it’s probably time to hang up the keys. If you pull to the shoulder of the road out of respect for a funeral procession, and don’t start up again until you hear the wagon driver chanting, “Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!” — it’s probably time to hang up the keys.

The situation demands a wide arsenal, including periodic testing of ALL drivers who have brushes with the law, respectfully customized restricted licenses, a streamlined process for reporting concerns and heightened publicity for AARP driver education programs.

One of the greatest dreads of adult children is the time that they must ask their parents to surrender their car keys. Of course this process is made much easier if the parent flaunts a Winnebago plastered with bumper stickers such as “I’m Spending My Children’s Inheritance.” (“It’s safer if you give up driving, Dad. And you never know when the batteries in the TV remote will start a fire. And I’ve heard some disturbing things about the potential danger of recliners…”)

Danny Tyree
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