Hey, should you be driving?
Dennie Quill, Columnist
I recall watching a television newscast many years ago when the reporter was taken for a ride by an elderly man for a story she was doing about senior drivers. The cameras were rolling, and when the motorist pulled into a parking lot, the lens zoomed in to reveal that he was miles from the mark. But even before that he was drifting over the white line.
I believe every viewer concluded, like I did, that this person had no business behind the wheel.
And who can forget the horrific accident which occurred at a farmers' market in Santa Monica, California, when an 86-year-old man mowed down 73 people, killing 10, when he mistook the accelerator for the brakes?
As I heard the news last week about an elderly man crashing into schoolchildren in Portmore, memories of these two incidents came surging back and got me thinking about the elderly and their driving skills. And, yes, that includes me. Before anyone describes me as an ageist, let me say I am a senior citizen.
From time to time I observe an elderly lady in my neighbourhood who drives slowly, no more than five miles an hour. She is usually in the middle of the road but will veer far left and stop to allow other motorists to go by before she resumes her crawl. There is clear and present danger in this situation, for driving at a snail's pace can be as perilous as hurtling down a hill.
I know this is a touchy subject because older people see driving a motor vehicle as one of the last shreds of independence, and asking them to give that up can be a harsh blow to their mobility. But what is to be done when older drivers become a menace on the road?
Safety on our roads is a major public-health concern, and the traffic authorities exist to promote traffic safety and protect the travelling public by removing unsafe drivers from the road. I have no statistics to go on, but my general observation of driving habits in Jamaica tells me that while an impaired elderly driver may not be as aggressive and erratic as younger motorists, he could be as dangerous as a taxi or minibus driver.
In a study published in the Journal of Sports and Exercise Psychology, one of the participating professors had this to say: "The likelihood of elderly drivers becoming involved in anxiety-related accidents is higher than that for the average population. There's a lot of research to indicate that as we get older, there's a slowing down in the information-processing system. If you couple that with anxiety or a situation where you're presented with obstacles, the elderly are more prone to have a better chance of being impaired, simply because their systems are not as fine-tuned as those of younger people."
And don't we know it. As we age, our vision weakens, our hearing is not as sharp, and our reflexes are slower. Added to that, many seniors are on medication of one sort or another with side effects that cause impairment of judgement.
I believe if we are really serious about road safety, we should require mandatory driving tests for motorists who have reached the age of 70. In order for their licence to be renewed, persons over 70 should be tested for cognitive awareness, vision and response time.
So there, I know this may not go down well with many of my friends, but it would help tremendously if we all start with self-awareness of our own abilities.
It all comes down to achieving that balance between public safety and personal independence.