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Thoughts for the Day

AgeVenture OPINION Points

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Dr. David J. Demko, gerontologist and editor

Dr. David J. Demko, Gerontologist and Editor Life is full of inevitable events. Sadly, inevitable events in Aging America include elderly drivers plowing into pedestrians or crashing through storefront windows. We read the headlines, shake our collective heads, then return to our daily routines.

Advocates for the elderly fight to keep older drivers on the road, arguing that too few options exist for transporting elders to the doctor's office, drug store, and shopping. Detractors demand driver's licenses be revoked at a set age. Both these pro and con arguments are wrong because the driver's "age" is not the issue.

Advanced age is not a direct cause of reckless driving. In fact, teens have the highest accident rates; elders the second highest. These two driver groups don't have "age" in common. What they do have in common is incompetence at the wheel.

Let's consider teens first. We put them behind the wheel of high-performance machines capable of accelerating at more than twice the legal MPH limit. Limited experience behind the wheel, while not a crime, can easily result in poor judgement and over-confidence leading to higher accident risk. How many times is a teen driver's road-skill competence tested once they've earned their license to drive? None. Yes, there are many well-qualified teen drivers. But because we cannot get the incompetent one's off the road, every teen is hit with high insurance rates.

Many elder drivers, like some teens, are reckless due to incompetence behind the wheel. Here's why. When today's elders learned to drive, there were no high performance automobiles, power brakes, power steering, distractive cell phones and CD players, highway cloverleafs, and 70 MPH speed limits. Sixty-five years ago, the time when today's 80-year-olds formed their driving habits, cars excelerated to 70 MPH only when forced over a cliff.

Just as modernization transformed the nation's transportation system, the process of aging was changing the competence of drivers. Here's a few examples.
  • Pupil size decreases with age requiring more light to see.
    An 80 year old needs 3 times more light to see as well as a 20 year old.
  • Glare increasingly becomes an obstacle for drivers over time. Glare is created by reflected sunlight, and night-time headlights of other cars.
  • Reaction time increases during unexpected events (a child dodging into traffic).
  • Perception(what color is the traffic light), judgement (deciding how to react, go or stop), executing appropriate action (step on the gas or the brake), make sure other cars follow suit.
  • Range of vision decreases as adults come to depend on eyeglasses. Bi-focals and tri-focals don't allow for peripheral vision.
  • Focusing and re-focusing from near to far and back again requires more time. The lens of the eye becomes less flexible requiring more time to adjust focus.
  • Presbycusis, loss of sound volume and high-frequency distract the older driver. Background noise (traffic sounds, environmental distractions, radio) blend with conversation, alerts, or warning originated from passengers.
Accommodates can be made in order to compensate for these age-related changes. That's why many late-life drivers navigate well, and without incident. So, unilaterally revoking a driver's license based on age alone is age discrimination. And creates the need for more costly mass transportation options. We can't make teen drivers older, or older drivers younger. However, we can improve driver competence, and provide transportation alternatives for those beyond help. Here's a few strategies for making the roadways safe from incompetent drivers.
  • Random selection testing of the population of all drivers. Scientific selection based on acceptable confidence levels are cost-effective and reassuring.
  • Remediation programs such as Driver Refresher Program mandated for deficient drivers. Local public service groups conduct such programs.
  • Restricted drivers licenses for those with substandard skills. Restrict driving to day-only, or non-rush hour traffic (7AM-9AM and 4PM-6PM).
  • Transportation alternatives for those who do not respond to remediation. Mass transit discount, service vans, carpool to shopping, volunteer companion drivers.
Dangerous drivers are not a matter of age, too young or too old, but a matter competence. We expect bus drivers, train engineers, subway captains, airline pilots to be constantly checked for competency. Given the damage a high-performance car can do, the assessment of auto drivers represents a gapping hole in transportation safety. Safety for the driver, passengers, and those of us on the street.

It is possible to reduce the likelihood of continuing auto accident tragedies. We have the imagination to see the true source of the problem, the scientific know-how to monitor the situation, and the good sense to implement a cost-effective solution. A solution directed at the real problem, enhancing driver competence.

AgeVenture News Service,

Dr. David J. Demko, gerontologist and editor

It appears the group most identified with protecting the U.S. Constitution is actually dead-set against it. The ACLU religiously advocates individual rights of terrorists, child pornographers, drunk drivers, and sexual predators. But advocating for individual freedoms is only one part of the social contract embodied in the Constitution.

What about the other half of the Constitution which calls for the protection of all members of society? You know, the common good which is expressed by our democratic process. The ACLU seems to have forgotten, lost, or just ignores the other half of the U.S. Constitution which calls for acting in the best interests of society.

To make matters worse, only poor and working class Americans are subject to the ACLU's wacky court actions. ACLU turns loose the psycho's and sex offenders on unsuspecting citizens then drive their limos home to hunker down in the safety and security of their gated communities, immune from the very dangers they've set upon society.

ACLU members and Supreme Court justices who support ludicrous ACLU actions should be required to live (along with the rest of society) in the predatory social environment they create. If the families of ACLU members and Supreme Court justices were exposed to the same social predators they turn loose upon the rest of society, all this nonsense would end in a heart beat.

The actions of the ACLU and the Supreme Court are not Constitutional issues, but class-conflict issues. The privileged classes enjoy the luxury of not being subject to the consequences of their actions. It is working-class Americans who are asked to bare the consequences of irresponsible and mindless actions of ACLU elitists.

By ignoring the common good, the ACLU undermines both the democratic process and the social protection guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. By accident or design, ACLU actions work squarely against the Constitution.
AgeVenture News Service,

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Dr. David J. Demko, gerontologist, psychologist, and editor
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