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How old is too old?

By: Gary Magwood

Date: Friday, 11. April 2008

Gary Magwood is a driving educator and freelance writer.

Two years ago, Beth Kidnie, a 42-year-old mother of three was returning home from an evening walk along a suburban street near Toronto, Canada. As she crossed the street on a green light, she was struck by a car driven by 84-year-old Pilar Hicks. Apparently, Hicks did not see or hear Kidnie banging on the hood of the car, and did not notice as her clothing got stuck in the undercarriage and she was dragged under the wheels. Leaving skid marks on the road surface from the dying Kidnie, Hicks dragged the victim more than half a mile to her home, where the body dislodged and lay in the driveway as Hicks walked inside her house. Hicks was later convicted of criminal negligence causing death and had her license taken away for good. Recently, the Coroner's Jury presented its report.

I have been following the daily news bulletins and reports from the coroner's inquest in Toronto looking into the fatality of a pedestrian caused by an 84 year old woman driver.

Here we go again. A few weeks ago cell phones were the "hot button" cause of our traffic woes. Prior to that we railed against aggressive drivers. Other targets have included speeders, impaired drivers, older, mechanically unsound vehicles, trucks and their drivers and, of course young or new drivers. This month it's age rage.

We constantly seek to make changes in our society using simplistic ideas to rectify incredibly complex problems. Today's traffic and driving conditions have evolved and developed over the past 100 years and need radical rethinking from all of us, particularly from legislators, to affect change.

So, what about the age issue? Are older/elderly drivers a menace on our roads and highways? At what age do we become elderly? At what age do we decide to worry about our ability to drive? What constitutes 'ability to drive?' Who should be re-tested and when?

Here's my take on the topic: I don't think we can actually answer any of the above questions without looking at the core problem. If we are really honest and leave our egos aside for a few minutes and push aside the well established myths and misconceptions about driving, we have to admit that none of us is adequately taught or trained to deal with today's traffic environment. I make this statement very cautiously knowing how much driving and being able to identify ourselves as 'good' drivers means to us collectively.

The process of acquiring a driver's license has changed very little over the past 40 or so years. This, in part, contributes to our traffic problems. We treat driving as a simple task. It isn't. It is an incredibly complex task. The good news is that we are capable of learning complex tasks. Witness our abilities to read and write, play sports, work a computer, make mathematical calculations, or even create a work of art.

These skills and abilities are learned and practiced. Some of us have a natural predilection for these activities, others require more time and training to master them. With help and guidance, we can all perform amazing, complex tasks - particularly if we are motivated. Ah, maybe that's the key word: motivated.

What motivates use to drive in a manner least harmful to ourselves and others? I suggest it is our innate instinct for self preservation. This powerful instinct probably contributes more than anything else to our ability to avoid crashing even without adequate training.

How does this instinct fit into the age/driving issue? I suggest that in all ages and stages of our lives it underlies our decisions and choices. If that is the case, then each of us is capable of making the decision to stop driving when we realize we've become a threat to our own self preservation.

Why not evaluate?

How do we arrive at that point? Here enters the "re-test" concept. How about replacing the "test" word with "evaluation?" An evaluation process could be applied throughout our driving careers. Initially, due the logistics, and, more importantly, the resistance to the idea of routine re-examination, drivers involved in a crash or collision could be asked to participate in an evaluation. An evaluation to look at what they could or could not have done to avoid the incident.

My experience with many thousands of drivers of all ages and stages on skid pads has elicited many an "ah ha, that's what I did when I... (fill in the blank) that contributed to my crash." An evaluation could be initiated with an on-road assessment. If the driving educator/instructor determines further evaluation is required then a session on a skid pad could follow.

I'm not suggesting that just teaching emergency braking techniques, vision skills, and collision avoidance training will dramatically reduce the carnage on our roads, but it could offer many drivers an opportunity to find out what they really know about driving, and, in most cases, to realize that there is much more to learn.

If drivers realize their skill level, vision abilities, reflexes, and general comfort behind the wheel are becoming a threat to their own well being, they can decide without coercion to give up their driver's licenses. They can make the decision based on their own sense of self preservation. Age becomes a secondary consideration.

This evaluation process is not to be construed as a simple solution to all our traffic problems. But, it would be a start. And we really do need to start. Age rage, and, for that matter any other rage, is inappropriate and self destructive both in life and behind the wheel.

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Bridgey B,

ya'll are so dumb, ya'll cant even answer questions that are being asked. f this s***.

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