By: Drake Bennett, The Boston Globe
Monday, July 27, 2009
What happens when an older driver takes the wheel -- and what we all can learn from it
For all the indignities that the elderly suffer, they aren’t typically accused of being a menace to society. Until, that is, they get behind the wheel of a car. Here in Massachusetts, a spate of high-profile accidents involving older drivers - a 92-year-old man who killed his wife by backing over her in a parking lot, an 88-year-old woman who allegedly hit and killed a 4-year-old girl in a crosswalk in Stoughton last month, a 93-year-old man who mistook the gas pedal for the brake and drove through the entrance of a Danvers Wal-Mart - have triggered calls on Beacon Hill for measures that would take older drivers off the roads as their abilities decline. Within families, it has heightened anxieties about whether it may finally be time to take the car keys away from elderly parents or grandparents.
The risk is real. While there is a wide variation, people for the most part grow measurably worse at driving as they age. They experience a steady erosion of physical capabilities like strength, eyesight, and hearing. And perhaps more importantly, they also lose the specific cognitive skills that driving requires. Even a healthy aging brain suffers a declining ability to respond quickly, to take in one’s surroundings and identify potential dangers, and to balance and coordinate all of the different tasks that merely backing out of a driveway can involve.
To read the entire news release, see the Boston.com website at http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/07/26/your_brain_in_drive/?page=1.