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Older drivers will need transit alternatives

Columnist

This letter follows up on a discussion about whether older drivers should undergo additional testing to renew their licenses. The writer who originally included the proposal, among other suggestions for improving traffic and safety, sent in this additional observation.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Taking the keys away from seniors is meant to be a last resort. It is specifically meant for those folks who absolutely shouldn’t be behind the steering wheel.

Usually, either the family or friends have failed to intervene. Some older drivers might look at this as a doomsday scenario, but they need to remember that they can take as many lessons as they need, and even if they fail the first road test, they can take their time and take more lessons before taking the final test. The drivers who fail the second time are protected from doing harm to themselves and their fellow drivers. I would say that is pretty fair to the rest of us.

You might know that in the Netherlands, society as a whole always has been tolerant toward individual liberties. But the Dutch clearly drew the line when they saw some elderly drivers had become a danger on the road.

I fully understand the problems this new rule might cause for rural drivers. The local municipalities will have to look into what they can provide for these folks as far as public transportation.

A. Maarten Singelenberg, Rockville

DG: Pity the politician who proposes testing older drivers. That age group tends to turn out at election time. But politics aside, is extra testing the right thing to do?

The many responses to Singelenberg’s first letter — many of them from older drivers — did not argue that we should allow them to get away with bad driving. Rather, they tended to focus on our need to maintain mobility as we age. If we start additional testing, what transportation options can our communities offer to people who might have failed the test but still need to get around?

We’ve made no such commitment to preserving mobility. Families can do their part, but the transportation needs of aging baby boomers will eventually overwhelm their families. The kids have lives, too. And parents don’t necessarily want to live where it’s convenient for their children to help them out.

We can use the tools of government, including tax breaks, to encourage private groups to provide transportation services for older people within their own communities. It’s unrealistic to expect that our governments will directly provide transit services that will meet the upcoming demand. That’s a greater expense than the public is willing to bear.

Metro, for example, has spent the past few years trying to limit the growth of the MetroAccess paratransit program after the escalating expense stunned the jurisdictions that subsidize regional transit.

What else can be done to meet this need for mobility without a massive increase in public spending?

MORE INFO, please

Okay, enough of the big talk. Now let’s get back to the little things that really annoy travelers. Letter writers and I launched a round of rebukes and recriminations aimed at drivers who don’t use their signal lights to indicate turns or lane changes.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Many drivers who do use signals don’t turn them on until after they brake for the turn. This isn’t helpful in indicating intentions to the drivers behind them. I always use my turn signal in advance of braking for the turn.

Joy K. Reynolds, the District

DG: I also find it annoying when drivers brake first, then signal, but is my anger righteous? Once I see those brake lights come on, I’ve got the most important piece of information I need: The driver ahead is slowing down, and I need to react.

But it would be extra helpful if the lead driver could refine that for me. Is the driver going to come to a complete stop in the lane? Turn right? Turn left or move to a left lane? Avoiding a collision is my responsibility, but it would be helpful for the lead driver to indicate whether I should be planning to change lanes, too, or just slow down.

tailgating TANGLES

This traveler was part of an earlier exchange [Dr. Gridlock, Jan. 8] in which I expressed support for drivers who don’t respond to aggressive driving — speeding and tailgating — with more aggressive driving. A driver faced with challenging behavior should “be the adult,” I said, and I cautioned against paying so much attention to a tailgating motorist that you lose focus on the road ahead.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Detecting a tailgater is almost always a result of my checking the mirrors for emergency vehicles, which can and do overtake unexpectedly, especially in cold weather with the windows closed, defroster on and radio playing.

With that said, I think the whole issue of dealing with ignorant, rude or aggressive behavior on the roads comes down to a little more than “being the adult.” The issue hinges not so much on our own aggravation to being dissed as on a more fundamental and practical consideration: Is “teaching” courtesy or a principle of obeying the law, no matter what, worth giving your life for? (Because we’re wielding 4,000-pound weapons out there.)

Granted, there are principles worth that sacrifice, but not these. I’ve been driving for 40-plus years, and I try to obey the law whenever circumstances permit, yet what I have finally decided on is a Credo for Driving that is both practical and satisfies my sense of lawfulness and good sense: It’s one thing to be “right,” but it’s something else altogether to be “dead right.”

D. Edwards, Springfield

DG: And you certainly don’t have to prove you’re right to a total stranger on a highway.

Thinking back to the discussion about the skills of older drivers, the reference to “40-plus years” of driving reminds me that aging might erode our physical abilities, but it rewards us with valuable experience coping with all sorts of driving situations.

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