In Defense of Older Drivers

Recently by Eric Peters: A Nation of Cringing Wretches…      

Are older drivers by definition bad drivers?

I doubt it.

In all likelihood, today’s “bad old drivers” were also bad middle-aged (and young) drivers. They didn’t become bad drivers because they got old; they were never good drivers to begin with.

Old age just made them worse.

And because the population has roughly doubled over the past 40 years, we have more bad drivers on the road than ever before – of all ages – but also oldsters, of which we’ve probably got twice as many now as we did circa 1970. They’re living longer – and so also driving longer than the old people of the past.

That’s what makes it seem as though we have epidemic of senescent drivers – a gantlet of geezers driving through plate glass windows; piddling along at 20 under the speed limit… .

But it’s not age, per se.

It’s the skill set of the individual.

A person who was a superb driver as a young person will likely still be a good driver – maybe a better driver than most people – even well into old age. And conversely, a person who was a marginal driver at 25 is probably going to be a disaster at 75, when their already iffy abilities are notched down to downright dangerous by weakened eyes, slowed reflexes and other inevitable age-related physical problems.

It’s not unlike the person who is fit and active vs. one who isn’t.

“Joe” was never very active, even as a young man. He didn’t play sports; never got into physically active pastimes. After he graduated college, he spent most of his free time watching TV. He ate poorly – and too much.

“Ed,” on the other hand, has been active from youth and remains so today. He spends a lot of his free time doing physical things, including running/walking, weight training and so on.

By age 45, Joe is in terrible shape. He’s twenty pounds overweight and already taking medicine for his high blood pressure and cholesterol. He is not half the man he was at 20.

But Ed at 45 is in much better shape; he may even be in better shape at 45 than Joe was at 20. He is taking no medicines. He is still wearing the same size pants. He can still do virtually everything he was able to do at that age, while Joe can’t – or has great difficulty doing it.

Fast-forward another 20 years. Joe is now a feeble old man; weak and slow. He looks old; he feels old. He has trouble with even minor physical exertions. In another few years, he will probably need a cane – or a Hover ’round motorized wheelchair.

But Ed seems to have hardly aged at all. He still has excellent flexibility and strength; no problems doing virtually anything he might have wanted to do at age 45.

Ed’s got more “in the bank,” so to speak.

While we all age, he shows the effects of aging less because he started out at a higher level.

Driving’s the same, I think.

The ex-racer (and current high-performance driving instructor) Bob Bondurant, for example, is well into his 70s now – but I have no doubt he can still drive better, faster, than 99 percent of the public. I know it, because I’ve been through his school – and been in a car with him driving.

The point is: People don’t become bad drivers overnight – or just because they’ve turned 70 (or even 80).

Yes, factors such as diminishing eyesight and reflexes are factors. But they affect an already poor driver much more noticeably than a driver who started out with excellent skills. And since there are many more already-marginal drivers out there than good (let alone great) drivers, as the population increases and ages, we’ll have more and more problems.

But the underlying problem is not age.

It’s that we don’t do anywhere near enough to screen out the marginals before they ever get that first license. There’s next to no meaningful driver training in this country – let alone testing – prior to issuing people their first license. And once they’ve got it, it is almost impossible to take it away.

If the system expected – no, demanded – more of people than the ability to turn an ignition key and move the gear selector from “Park” to “Drive,” I guarantee that so-called “senior driving” would quickly become a non-issue. Because those bad old drivers (today) would probably have never gotten that first license yesterday – when they were bad young drivers.

Reprinted with permission from