60 is not old, reader says

Dear Street Smarts, Q: I think your column is a very good idea. I usually think you do a good job with it but I think you greatly missed the boat with your recent column on elderly drivers. First, 60 years of age is not 'old.' Maybe your grandmother didn't much like driving when she decided to stop at age 60 or maybe she needed medical attention. A degree of slower response time or difficulty sustaining focus that has any significant effect on functioning can and does happen at any age and I understand is reason to seek medical evaluation at every age. In addition, medical experts are apparently increasingly questioning the old idea that significantly decreased mental functioning tends to be an intrinsic part of the normal aging process. Instead they are looking to lifestyle and medical care issues. Granted, that it is our children and grandchildren who will most benefit from this new approach but we are also being told, even now, that within reason, it's never too late to safeguard or improve our mental functioning. Second, I have read statistical research that claimed that drivers over 65 have far fewer serious accidents - more fender benders, fewer injury accidents. Young males cause the most serious accidents. I won't deny that an elderly person creeping along well under the speed limit is irritating whether it's on a freeway entrance or a side street, but consider this: How do you feel when someone weaves in and out on the freeway often cutting you off and usually to no avail? And how do you feel when someone usurps your right of way? My own unscientific observation is that it is almost always a youngish male, i.e.: under 35, but I would never think that they shouldn't be driving or that licenses for males under 35 should be curtailed. Driving is a necessity and problems need to be handled constructively. Unfortunately, driving is pretty necessary for many people in Santa Cruz County. This isn't Washington, D.C. or San Francisco with usable public transportation. Here, excessively long walks to a bus stop and lengthy waits to transfer can make the bus system unusable. The Paracruz system is essential and well done, but expensive, very very time consuming, must be reserved in advance and I believe also restricted to those with a medical referral. I hope you will soon say something more realistic and constructive in your column about elderly drivers. I particularly hope that you will not again promote the idea that over 60 is over the hill. Dolores Manning A: Last Monday's column wasn't about deciding what age is "over there hill." It was about people being in touch with their bodies and minds when it comes to driving. Thank you for sharing your concerns about other drivers abilities and/or disregard for traffic laws on the road. However,  I had hoped to get people to think about their own abilities behind the wheel or maybe help relatives of someone who has had some frightening health-related moments while driving to open up a dialogue. My column has addressed aging and driving numerous times over the years, usually in the form of a press release from the AARP or CHP about their driving courses for people age 50 and up. Those courses, which I have attended, explain the ways aging impacts driving abilities, while also discussing why seniors are more likely to die in a crash. They also talk about when to put down the car keys for good. My column that day sought share how my family is dealing with that very issue. If you feel you are a safe driver and have confidence in your abilities, kudos to you. Likewise, for those who saw themselves while reading Monday's column and took action, kudos to them, too. Q: Before drastically affecting the relationship with Grandpa by taking away his keys, I suggest trying to get him into a driver’s education -- or re-education -- class. A professional instructor can point out some of the bad habits grandpa has lapsed into. Tom Shanle, Santa Cruz A: Thank you. People interested in learning ways aging impacts driving and staying abreast of the latest traffic laws can enroll in senior driving courses offered by the CHP by calling 662-0511 or AARP by calling Fred Dunn-Ruiz at 426-6472.
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