We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Signs of a responsible senior driver

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist May 27, 2011

Responsible senior drivers tend to avoid driving in poor weather, as it reduces visibility and increases risks of a crash.

In general, seniors who drive are often perceived by other road users as being less than qualified to operate a motor vehicle.

There seems to be a systemic prejudice against them. The publicity given to sensational crashes involving senior drivers, who hit the gas instead of the brake, for instance, is all too often the stuff of righteous indignation directed at seniors who drive.

There are definitely seniors who should not be driving. Failing health and poor vision are probably the two most common reasons for older drivers to voluntarily surrender their driving privileges. When it comes to the driving task, the vast majority of seniors who maintain their driving licence self-regulate.

Here are some of the traits displayed by responsible senior drivers in the twilight of their driving career.

They do not drive at night.

As we age, it is much more difficult to see well at night. The glare of the oncoming headlights causes vision problems for some senior drivers. Some older drivers complain they are unable to see the speedometer properly, even during the daytime. Putting bright markers at certain analog speedometer intervals can solve this problem. Responsible seniors have been known to buy a vehicle with a huge digital speedometer display.

Seniors do not as a rule like to drive in the rain. Again, this is related to the need for clear vision. Pavement markings and other regulatory symbols are more difficult to see when it is raining. Pedestrians have a tendency to walk or run faster in the rain. Some studies have shown that speeds actually increase in the rain. The sound of the water splashing on the windshield, the flapping of the wipers and the noise of the tires on the watery road surface seem to excite the average driver. Why speeds would increase when visibility is poor and stopping distance is increasing is a mystery to most of us, but it is often the case on the highways.

The proof that most seniors are responsible drivers can be seen when the driver’s abstract is examined. This document is an individual’s driving record. It can be obtained at any licensing authority, usually free of charge. The traffic infractions, tickets and other information about fines and related driving indiscretions will be noted therein. In B.C. for instance, the abstract is a driving record containing information for the most recent five-year period. In the majority of cases, the abstract of the average senior driver is without any infraction. This is astounding. How many of us can say the same?

As drivers age, they lose flexibility in their upper body. Checking the blind spot becomes more difficult. The act of turning one’s head to look back over the right or left shoulder becomes painful. Responsible pensioners will use convex blind-spot mirrors to significantly reduce the need to check the shoulder area with a big upper-body rotation. These convex mirrors will never eliminate the need for a shoulder check. Once added, they are seen as indispensable by most seniors. Newer vehicles come equipped with cameras, which show the areas around the vehicle, on a viewing screen on the dashboard. These technological advancements are a blessing for drivers who have lost upper-body flexibility.

Responsible seniors, especially those who are retired, choose to drive at times when traffic is light. Because their schedules are less demanding, many do not need to be on the road at rush hour in the morning or afternoon.

There is no substitute for experience and good judgment. We should be mindful of that before prejudging responsible senior drivers.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.

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