How safe areolder drivers really?

2017-02-15 06:01
Henry Spencer authors books on all aspects of ageing. Contact him on                                              PHOTO: FILE

Henry Spencer authors books on all aspects of ageing. Contact him on PHOTO: FILE

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THERE can be no hard and fast rule as to when seniors should move over to the passenger seat. The majority could continue driving happily and safely forever, while others (dependent on their health), may experience problems earlier.

The TV presenter, Jeremy Clarkson, once said: “ … pensioners are by far the worst drivers. They are spiteful, dithering, old, and in the way.” And Clarkson never even set foot in Howick.)

Before sharpening the Zimmerframes, we need to acknowledge that many of us might need to start adding some adaptive techniques to our arsenal of driving skills.

The man who turned right instead of left

Lao Tzu once said: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading,” and so it was for an elderly Alzheimer’s sufferer who lived in Sandown, a Pinetown retirement village.

He unwisely still drove and used to collect his wife each afternoon from her place of work in Westville — some eight kilometres away. One afternoon he turned right instead of left and ended up in Harrismith, 330km east of Westville.

At 6pm that evening his distraught wife received a phone call from a Harrismith shop owner, informing her there was an elderly man in the store, who appeared confused and didn’t seem to know why he was there, or even who he was.

The song of an unhappy vehicle clutch

On another occasion, while having my vehicle repaired, I was given a lift back to our village by the local motor mechanic, as he dropped me off, looking at a black VW Golf parked near our cottage, he asked … “Is that Lizzie’s car?” On being told that it was, he confided how they had repaired her vehicle’s clutch four times in the last three years (the sound of an over-revved and unco-ordinated clutch is a scream for help from a suffering and abused vehicle).

With the advent of the baby-boomers, there are now countless seniors driving. International First World statistics show people over 80 are 250% more likely to die in an accident and have more accidents per kilometre than any other cohort, despite retired people tending to travel less.

In the UK, insurance statistics show fatalities increase exponentially after 65. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents also say that drivers over the age of 80 are more likely to cause a mishap, often being attributable to underlying health conditions and medication side-effects. Even a small bumper bashing could result in rib and sternum fractures from the seat belt due to the brittleness of the senior bones.

How safe are ‘Seffrican’­ seniors?

The Arrive Alive organisation maintains that the elderly often compensate through their adaptive driving behaviour:

• They tend to drive when roads are less busy.

• They generally choose to drive during daytime and dry weather.

• Experience enables them to anticipate problematic situations.

• Their desire for excitement and sensation is usually less.

• They generally drink-drive less and obey traffic rules more than their younger counterparts.

It is important for seniors to adapt both their vehicles and their driving habits, but most importantly to recognise their limitations.

- Supplied.

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are


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