There's an older white car that travels between Salem and Ash Flat. I've seen it often. The vehicle is always traveling about 35 mph. When a car comes up behind it, the driver pulls to the shoulder of the road to let the faster car go around. The driver does not pull over and stop; the car just keeps going at its slow but steady pace down the shoulder of the highway.
It scares me. I always think that if this driver doesn't feel comfortable traveling faster than 35 mph on a busy highway, maybe they shouldn't be driving -- period. Speed is only one aspect of operating a motor vehicle; vision, reflexes and concentration are pretty important too.
I don't know the age of this driver or the overall health of this person. I don't know their strengths or their limitations. I only know I share the road with them and I expect them to have the same driving skills I have. Right or wrong, I think it's safe to say this is the opinion most drivers have.
I have three sons. When each one got his driver's license at 16, paying their automobile insurance premium was as expensive as a car payment. I didn't like it, but I understood it. Statistically, they were high risk drivers; lacking the experience needed to be a safe driver. When they reached age 25 their driving risk began to decrease and now should remain steady for about 39 years. Then, according to studies, they will return to a high risk category.
A person's age doesn't make them a good driver or a bad driver; caution, training, physical ability, experience and common sense play a much bigger role. It's recognizing these strengths or weaknesses that keep us and the vehicles we meet safe on the road. The biggest difference between a young driver and an old driver is that most older drivers recognize when it's time to limit their driving. A young person, most often, feels invincible and believes they're the best driver in the world. "Move over old man, the king of the highway is coming through!"
My husband and I, on several occasions, took the car keys away from our sons. They weren't terrible drivers (OK, maybe the oldest one was) but they didn't always make the best choices. It was a learning experience and a punishment that brought instant results. So, what do you do when you see an older driver who appears unaware of changes to their driving ability? Taking away their keys is a little extreme at their respected age and experience level -- at least, most of the time. "Move over you whipper-snapper, I've already forgotten more than you know!"
In the next 20 years, the number of elderly drivers (age 70 and over) is predicted to triple in the United States. Since people 70 and older have more vehicle deaths per 100,000 people than any other group except people younger than 25, a wrecker service or automotive salvage yard could be the best investment we make for our future. And, if you're a man, your risk of death from a motor vehicle begins to rise at age 65 and by age 80 your risk is more than twice as high as age 40-74. When men reach age 85 their risk triples. The only conclusion you can come to with these facts so plainly put, is that women age 65 and older should have the authority to take the keys away from any male driver they believe needs to learn a life lesson. "Fork them over old man."
For whatever reason (male ego), men have always made fun of women drivers. Try as I might, I couldn't find any study that said women drivers were worse drivers then men. I did find this little tidbit: At all ages, males have much higher motor vehicle death rates per 100,000 people compared to females. "Git over old man, mama's taking the wheel."
In all fairness to men, I have to admit that bad drivers come in all shapes and sizes and age. I hate it when I have car trouble and have to depend on someone else to take me places. I know someday (my sons say that day is fast approaching) the tables could be turned and my boys might have to take the car keys away from me. I hope I'm smart enough and sharp enough to know when the time comes to limit my driving.
I found these 15 warning signs on the AARP Web site that I need to post on my refrigerator (I never forget where that is):
1. Feeling uncomfortable and nervous or fearful when driving. 2. Dents and scrapes on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs, etc. 3. Difficulty staying in the lane of travel. 4. Getting lost. (The Wal-Mart parking lot doesn't count.) 5. Trouble paying attention to signals, road signs and pavement markings. 6. Slower response to unexpected situations. 7. Medical conditions or medications that may be affecting the ability to handle the car safely. 8. Frequent "close calls." (That means almost crashing, guys.) 9. Trouble judging gaps in traffic at intersections. 10. Other drivers honking at you and instances when you are angry at other drivers. (Things you learned in kindergarten - road rage is NOT an acceptable way to act in public.) 11. Friends or relatives not wanting to ride with you. (But, flatulence will always be an acceptable reason not to ride with someone.) 12. Difficulty seeing the sides of the road when looking straight ahead. 13. Easily distracted or having a hard time concentrating while driving. 14. Having a hard time turning around to check over your shoulder while backing up or changing lanes. 15. Frequent traffic tickets or warnings by law enforcement in the last year or two. (That would really get my attention.)
AARP says this is not a one size fits all warning list, but it is a list of things to watch for. And, when we notice these warnings in our driving life, "it's time to stop and take inventory," as the old-timers say.
An AARP Safe Driving Class is only one of the ways we can improve on an activity most of us have taken for granted for a long time. There's a few benefits with that too -- a reduction in your auto insurance premium, as well as becoming an even safer driver.
As we age there's no doubt that our body and health change; those changes mean adjustments in our driving habits to keep ourselves and the people we meet on the road safe. Nobody wants to lose the independence we have to go anywhere at anytime; our vehicle takes us where we want and need to go. But, nobody wants to be the cause of a fatal car crash either. If your family member or friend is unaware of their diminishing skill behind the wheel -- tell them, as many times as it takes to get their attention. You may just save their life or the life of someone they meet on the road.