Outta my way, Missy...

Outta my way, Missy...

There is wisdom in age when it comes to being a smart driver

By Jennifer Hadley 04/30/2009

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Whenever anyone asks my parents how old they are, they smile and reply “We’re approaching middle age.” Without fail, this always evokes a chuckle from me (and anyone who happens to be within earshot) as my parents are in their 60s. But you wouldn’t know it from looking at them or talking with them. And you certainly wouldn’t hesitate to get in the car with either of them, despite the fact that they can technically be labeled “senior drivers.”  
All the same, I admit that I’ve been caught behind a car crawling along at a snail’s pace and angrily shouted “Outta my way, grandma!” Muttering to myself, I generally follow this up with something to the effect of “grumble, grumble, going to cause an accident and kill someone driving like that, grumble, grumble.” Then, just to prove how insightful I am, I look over my shoulder (to confirm that the driver is in fact a senior) as I zoom around them like a maniac. And then, of course, I feel like a jerk, because she probably is someone’s really nice grandma. And she probably makes great cookies. 
In addition to feeling like a jerk because I have no patience (or manners), I should feel like a mega-jerk because my resentments are, for the most part, based on prejudice, not facts. According to a recent study released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (iihs.org), the fatal crash involvement rates for older drivers (age 70 and up) has declined at a substantially sharper pace than the decrease in fatal accidents involving drivers 35 to 54 years old.
This is despite the fact that when the study began in 1997 there were fewer than 18 million licensed drivers in the US over the age of 70, and by 2006 (when the study ended) there were more than 20 million licensed drivers age 70 or older. Moreover, according to a study released by the Rand Corp. (rand.org) in 2007, drivers over 65 were only one-third as likely to cause auto accidents as drivers ages 15 to 24. 
Unfortunately, though, my grumblings aren’t completely unfounded. Older drivers are nearly seven times more likely to be killed in a two-car collision than younger drivers, due to increased vulnerability and consequent death from injuries.  Man, now I really feel bad for saying that “grandma’s going to kill someone driving like that,” as it seems that senior drivers pose a much greater risk to themselves than they do to others. 
However, I’m still going to make the case that we can all stand to learn a lot from senior drivers. After all, they’re not only reducing their involvement in fatal accidents at a quicker pace than middle-aged drivers; they’re also causing fewer accidents than young drivers. And according to both studies, the reason seniors are making safety strides on the roads should be credited directly to senior drivers themselves.
Seniors tend to restrict their own driving, opting to drive fewer miles, drive only during daylight, and curtail their own driving in conjunction with mobility or vision impairment. Incidentally, the older a driver becomes, the more self-restrictions they tend to impose, according to the IIHS study, with drivers 80 and older more than twice as likely as those 65 to 69 to set limits on their driving. 
It seems clear that there is wisdom in the ages when it comes to being a smart driver. Heck, maybe by the time I’m my parents’ age — you know, approaching middle age — I’ll even be a smarter, more patient and therefore better driver.  That would make the roads safer for all of us.

Contact Jennifer Hadley at jmhadley624@yahoo.com.

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