Mark Harvey — We’re getting better, but so are the cars

Last week I revealed something that had been revealed to me: Specifically, that “older drivers” are driving markedly better than their predecessors, with fewer crashes — and fewer fatal crashes — than anyone had expected.

AND, the crowd with the most significant decrease in said crashes is 80 or better — in some cases, much better!

So, what are we to take from that? “HOPE!” said I, because most of us know that one of the scariest life events looming on an aging horizon can be the necessity of having to surrender the keys; and, for those of us who have been on the other end of that cataclysmic event (i.e. trying to wrench the keys out of Dad’s hands), we know all-too-well what it does to everybody involved.

At the risk of shouldering Pollyanna to the sidelines, allow me to drench all this HOPE with a little more hope, because while it seems that a lot of us are getting quite a bit better at this driving thing, so are the cars themselves. Consider:

- Blind spot warning systems — cameras that detect an unseen car and trigger a light on the dashboard;

- “Smart” headlights, that adjust the range and intensity of light to improve night vision;

- Systems that warn a driver if the car is straying from its lane, or to obstacles (think, people) crossing behind or to cars stopped in front, or …

- A car that will slow when it needs to, if it appears that the driver isn’t braking.

And I think most of us are beginning to hear about cars that drive themselves! And “talk” to each other and to traffic signals and work zones, etc. Yes, I could go on about the science fiction implications of that, although many of us who came of age in the ‘60’s might find the experience … entertaining.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Sounds great! Sounds … pricey.” And that seems a logical conclusion but, who knows? Maybe not. Maybe insurance companies will pay for this stuff, because it’s cheaper than paying for accidents; after all, who among us would have anticipated being able to receive today’s pictures of the grandkids on the same gizmo that reminds us to take our darned meds?

Indeed, the future unfolds. So, live happily ever after?

Please do! But remember that all this cool, high-tech driving stuff only helps us — it doesn’t replace us. So, what are we to do about us??

Let’s start with remembering that we are our own problem. A common (and understandable) scenario is that Mom or Dad or Grandpa or whomever begins to suspect that some of their driving skills (or associated abilities, like reaction time or turning a head far enough to actually see), is going downhill. Scared-to-death of being forced to give up driving, and well aware that guile and cunning will often carry the day (at least, today), Mom, Dad or Grandpa keep that little piece of information to themselves …

Until something happens — and “something” always does.

Many of us are getting smarter! Many of us are saying to ourselves, “This is NOT good, so I need to find a way to compensate or get better or learn new skills or refresh old ones or … I need to DO something about it!”

Good! Do it! There are “driving specialists” and occupational therapists and … DOCTORS! And a world of information and resources online. Are all of these immediately and conveniently available to all of us, no matter where we’ve chosen to live? Probably not, so it’s likely that there could be some degree of “hassle” involved with this, but allow me to observe that “hassle” is a relative thing, particularly when compared to hassling someone else to take us to. You get it.

Certainly, I’d be remiss (among other things) if I didn’t make the obvious observation that if and when we can use public transportation, why wouldn’t we? It’s cheap, it’s environmentally friendly and we can screw-up our high-tech gizmos on the way to wherever! What else could we want?

Here’s what I hope we’ll take away from all this: There IS hope and we are NOT “victims.” We CAN do things to keep ourselves mobile, which has to include keeping ourselves relatively healthy, relatively flexible and more-than-a-little alert. Hey, look: Remember way back when we had to study that driving book and learn to drive or take Driver’s Ed and take that horrible, intimidating test and … PARALLEL PARK???

Me, too; but that was what we had to do to get ourselves on the road — THIS is what we have to do to KEEP ourselves on the road, IF we really need to be there, so we’d better all get used to it.

If we don’t need to be there, and can manage our lives in other ways, then why wouldn’t we do THAT? Cars and driving are expensive pursuits, so if we don’t need to, why wouldn’t we give it up and invest all that money in a cool new gizmo that allows us to communicate secretly with our grandchildren without their stick-in-the-mud parents knowing everything that gets said, arranged or agreed to?

After all, guile and cunning will often carry the day.

Mark Harvey is the director of Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information &Assistance.


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