Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What's My Age Again?

The time has come, yet again, to check in with our friend "Smack", and address what is always a hot-button issue with the key demographic of this website: Aging drivers.

Please feel free to weigh in by posting a comment, and enjoy.
Within Reason: Alright, Smack, what have you got?
Smack: It might be overblown but it’s a hot topic… How about delving into the elderly driver thing?
WR: Sure. Here's my opinion: Instead of looking at this as a case of "Old drivers need to be tested every 'X' years" just have everyone tested every 10. That way, no age-ism, no discrimination - and as an added bonus, you're more likely to get other, younger dangerous drivers off the roads as well.
S: This might get lengthy, but here goes…

This call for elderly driver testing is a knee jerk reaction to the ridiculous amount of media coverage the topic has been receiving lately. It’s definitely an issue, but it’s hardly a new one. Old people have always mistaken gas pedals for brake pedals. The stats show that as life expectancies improve elderly drivers are becoming a larger demographic, so this does deserve attention but not the kind that it’s been getting.
This is a suit designed to give the wearer a firsthand experience of what it’s like to be an elderly driver. It makes your legs heavy, your hands arthritic, and your neck stiff. It reminds me of the “beer goggles” that your high school health teacher had that were supposed to show you what it’s like to be drunk. Give me a break. Goggles can’t give you the same sensation that a fifth of vodka can. To be accurate they would have to make a simulator that drops 20 lbs off of female frames, makes Wendy’s taste exponentially better and makes your jokes at least twice as funny. Likewise, a suit can’t give you the same sensation that 85 years of life can. If they really want to take this route I want to see them add loose dentures, loose bowels and an inability to open jars of pickles and/or spaghetti sauce. It really wouldn’t be any more ridiculous.

Exhibit B: http://www.libertymutual.com/driverseatThis is an online “senior driving simulator.” If you don’t have time to try the suit in person you can simply surf your way to an elderly driving experience on the web. You’ve got to try it to believe it. It starts off with an overhead, 3rd person view where you control the vehicle with arrow keys and there’s no button for a brake. Seriously. Then in level 2 you get the 1st person view. You don’t get the luxury of mirrors or the ability to look side to side, and the outer range of the vision you don’t get is totally blurred. As you drive, animals, pedestrians and other vehicles just appear in front of you and you hit them. It’s just asinine. This isn’t even made by the DOT or the NHTSA; this is an insurance company with elderly customers! How do you not alienate people with this crap? Unless they’re under the assumption that old people don’t use the Internet…

You and I are in agreement about testing across the board. It’s best to avoid the ageism and just test everyone every so often. The under 25 demographic has to be a huge percentage of accident-causers as well. How about a driving suit that gives you growing pains, acne, and an erection? How about a driving simulator where you have to drive to cheerleading practice while bumping the new Black Eyed Peas song and simultaneously txting your BFF about the new Twilight book?

I also feel that the vision testing at the RMV is an absolute joke. I have personally seen an RMV employee give someone 4 or 5 chances to pass the test. Why even administer it if you’re not going to do it seriously? I mean, that was one opportunity right there to force a driver who couldn’t see to get corrective lenses.

WR: Okay - we are in 100% agreement on the "simulator" examples you give. There is no way to accurately simulate anything - there is always an 'X' factor.

Where I start to disagree is when the focus shifts to the 'challenges' facing younger drivers. Apart from the basic learning curve - so say, a year at most to "get the feel" of driving (and even this, I would think, would account for more dings in the parking lot and "I'm going, NO I'm not, YES I'M GOING, WAIT...I'll just stop in the intersection and look scared...why are you beeping at me...?" incidents than it would true wrecks), I think the problems you list - loud music, txting, heavy petting, etc. - are all behavioral in nature. A 37 year old soccer mom who's trying to load Harry Potter and the Clearasil Curse into her Dodge Durango's DVD player while on the phone with a more-than-a -little-stoned 17 year old pizza shop employee trying to secure food for the softball team cookout, all while asking little Emily in the back seat "Sweetie, which one is your street?" - is just as dangerous as the little Black Eyed Peas fan you reference. The common thread is that all of the extraneous activities can be avoided.

There is nothing behavioral about senility. My general rule of thumb is - if the world starts moving too fast, you are moving too slow. Old Mr. Jenkins, on his way to open up the same hardware store he's run since 1951 - when bread cost a nickel and those dang kids weren't trying to commit dang suicide by rolling on their dang skating boards on the sidewalk - can't just say "Hmmm, for this ride to work, I'm going to put my aging brain on 'vibrate' and not let my deteriorating reflexes affect me until I get to work."

Where I really disagree is where you contend that this is a knee-jerk reaction to recent events. Calls like these have gone out before, and - if this bid is unsuccessful - they will go out again. I agree that the flutter of recent news attention focused on this issue has served to escalate the debate - but as some one who worked in a pharmacy for years, I can tell you - as long as there have been old people and cars, there have been people who are too old to drive.

S: I think we’re both uniquely qualified to opine on this. I’ve been dealing with auto accident claims for at least 7 years now and I have a good feel for who should and shouldn’t be driving. I’ve seen plenty of accidents where old drivers have hit the wrong pedal. Sometimes they’re serious accidents; sometimes they’re dings. Young kids cause big wrecks, too. At a certain point the old folks need to call it quits. But there are plenty of old drivers who are still sharp and have no trouble behind the wheel. I do think, though, that however avoidable the behavioral issues may be, young drivers are still more susceptible to fall into the bad habits. And some drivers never grow out of them which is why you see the Volvo-driving-soccer-mom-phenomenon that you so vividly describe. Distracted drivers, old drivers and drunk drivers can be equally dangerous. At least you can test people’s BAC, vision and reaction time. What can you do about the teeny boppers; endorse their licenses with a Ritalin requirement?

This is by far the biggest uproar I’ve ever experienced with this. When I say knee jerk, I’m talking about the driving suit and the online simulator. It’s way over the top and unnecessary. Something does need to be done but a lot of people seem to be too quick to want to pull everyone over 85 off the road. Just test everyone.

WR: Well, it is a bit over blown - but this whole idea of ours behind testing everyone sort of points to why: It would be fully expected that the vast majority of those failing their re-tests would be older drivers. Just think of the scenario of the test itself. If you are a younger, easily distracted driver - what are the chances you'll be texting with a Statie in the passenger seat (and if you do: FAIL) - and if you're a soccer mom (or dad, I guess) - you're not going to have the kids in the car with you - it will be Officer Timilty. But older drivers will stil have their aging retinas, their atrophied arms and legs, and - most importantly - their diminished mental capabilities.

Obviously, I'm not pointing to all older drivers - just like I'm not pointing to all Moms. I still do think the focus needs to be on the older drivers, whether that fact ends up at the forefront of any solution or not. Testing everyone is just a nice compromise - with minimal downside - that achieves this objective without being 'agist.'
S: I think it’s important to be fair regardless of who the real target is. If you’re going to have physical requirements to be on the road then they need to be universal.

And unless Liberty Mutual comes out with a “female driver suit” and an “African American driver suit” or a "white businessman driver suit", etc… They need to cut it out. Side note: I’m finding it hard to resist the temptation to imagine these suits.

WR: I agree. If we're going to treat driving like a de facto right, we need to apply equal protection to all drivers. Not that I think that driving is a 'right' - but convincing folks otherwise gets increasingly difficult as we all become more and more entitled.

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