Should older drivers take additional tests?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I bet you received many comments on the testing of older drivers [Dr. Gridlock, Oct. 27]. Because I will soon be 70, and have seen other comments like this, I, too, worry about being forced from my car.

His idea of public transport might work in Europe, but it can’t here. We don’t have that kind of public transport. I lived 18 years in Europe, courtesy of the Air Force, eight of those years in Germany. There is some transport in most areas, or shopping is available in a small town or village. Not here.

And, judging by the driving I see on the Fairfax County Parkway, there is plenty of bad driving among the young: speeding, tailgating, lack of signaling. These drivers are not 70, I bet.

Most seniors realize when they should quit driving, and do. Others do it when a doctor or family member suggests it. The seniors would have to be warehoused in assisted living if the writer’s idea were enforced.

Not every elderly person could toddle onto a bus while loaded down with groceries, or could afford a grocery store’s online service.

I also use the Fairfax Connector bus to get from the Springfield Mall parking area to the Metro stop. This bus route is great. I notice that many passengers say thanks to the drivers, myself included. We thank them simply because they get us to our destination on time and deal with the traffic and, hopefully, don’t get the abuse other bus drivers do.

So, no to testing only those older than 70. That is not old by today’s life spans and working life. It’s prejudice. Let’s look around at who’s causing the accidents.

Peggy Speelman, Fairfax Station

DG: The letter from A. Maarten Singelenberg of Rockville suggested testing the driving skills of people 70 and older every two years, and it indeed drew many responses. Writers, who included older drivers, were divided on testing. But a recurring theme — expressed by those for and against testing — was that we don’t have a system of public transportation suited to helping seniors maintain their mobility without driving.

Transit shortage

This letter picked up on Singelenberg’s reference to what Germany does to help the elderly.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding testing older drivers: Clearly, this is a necessary step. Some older drivers are a danger to themselves and others. However, Germany’s “wonderful solution” of providing free public transportation is not readily adaptable to this country. The United States is a much larger country, sorely lacking in public transport other than in cities. Where I live and where many others live, there is no bus or train system to carry people to stores, doctors, friends and so forth.

So, shall we test only those who live within an area that serves the public, and let the rural folk manage as best they can?

R. Estes, Kent Island, Md.

DG: This is an excellent point today, and it will become even more of a worry as the suburbs continue to gray. There have certainly been improvements in public transportation in the suburbs, but we’re not devoting the resources to keep up with the shifting needs of an aging population.

When I spoke to a group of people who had recently moved to a new senior community in Haymarket, I learned that they were enjoying their new life in the farther-out suburbs but that many drove back to their old haunts to attend church, visit doctors or socialize.

There were no bus routes flexible enough to serve all of their interests. They had given up on using Metrorail for trips into the District, because they liked to travel after the morning rush. By then, the parking garages at Vienna are full. Instead, they would drive in all the way and find a parking place in the city.

An elderly man from Woodbridge asked me when I thought Metrorail would reach the area, noting that he could really use it because he has to drive north to a doctor who puts drops into his eyes. He said he was going to ask the doctor to put the drops in only one eye per visit, so he’d be able to drive home.

I said he wasn’t likely to see Metrorail reach Woodbridge in a generation, let alone in time for his visits to the doctor.

I should also have told him not to drive with only one good eye.

Behaving badly

Some writers — especially those with experience overseas — said the training and behavior of U.S. drivers at any age doesn’t measure up.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am 82, in pretty good shape and a frequent driver. I fully support more frequent road tests for seniors, and ones that are not handled superficially. Of course, this means more costs for motor vehicle offices, but that’s better than more serious accidents.

Your correspondent cites numerous gaps in overseeing driving habits, but a glaring problem for us since we returned from overseas in 1991 is frequent red light running. And of course, no one is there to stop them at every intersection.

Red light running was virtually unknown in 1975 when we left for 16 years overseas.

Talking on cellphones while driving is another glaring problem, also seemingly incurable despite so many new devices for hands-free use.

Incidentally, we came back recently from a week in Lyon, France, where our 18-year-old granddaughter is spending five days at 10 hours per day in a driver training program, about half in actual supervised driving. It is strenuous and very tiring, she says, but I had never heard of anything like that for new drivers. It seems we are pretty lax on training drivers and monitoring them.

Gil Sheinbaum, Vienna

DG: What particular type of driver misbehavior should be the subject of remedial education?

 
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