Saturday, January 21, 2006

Keeping the Elderly on the Road, but Out From Behind the Wheel - New York Times

A year or two ago, bicyclists on the roads of Montreal were dropping like flies on a windshield. Elder drivers were churning out road kill.

Montreal has narrow roads, and an aged population (the remnants of the engish quebecois) in the west end of the island. Aging sucks. Visual perception is a complex processor intensive internal simulation of the external world. Aging hits perception everywhere -- the lens stiffens, the vitreous opacifies, the retina atrophies, the brain rots. Perception goes. Let's not discuss the impact of cell phones (hey, it's the only way I can call my mother).

We compensate in our forties and fifties by driving more cautiously and by avoiding sleep deprivation and mind-altering substances (except caffeine). This only goes so far. By age 65 the tide has turned ..
Keeping the Elderly on the Road, but Out From Behind the Wheel - New York Times

... People 65 and older account for more accidents per miles driven than any group other than teenagers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

... In 1988, Ms. Freund watched a motorist run over her 3-year-old son, Ryan, as he played in front of their house. The 84-year-old driver later told investigators that he thought he had run over a dog. The accident left Ryan in a coma, but he eventually recovered. Ms. Freund went on to study the issue of elderly drivers while in graduate school.

By the time she left the University of Southern Maine with a degree in public policy, she had refined her idea. She knew that older drivers' cars often got little use. Using the model of a reverse mortgage, a home equity loan that enables people to tap into the value of their homes, Ms. Freund applied the formula to cars.

Under her program, elderly people trade in their cars and the value is booked into an account from which they can draw to receive rides. On average, $7 to $8 is deducted for each ride. Family and friends can add to the account by donating cars or cash, or their time as volunteers.

Taking cars away from the elderly is not an easy business. Nobody is great at it, neither physicians nor licensing boards not families. Most American cities are so car centric it would be less bothersome to lose a leg than a car. This problem will get worse every year for the next 30 years; we'll hear more about it. We need to put a lot of "smarts" in cars and in the transit environment to compensate for what we're losing. Maybe gas at $12/gallon will help ...

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