Can geezer drivers get safer? How about texters & cellphoners?

Just how risky are distracted drivers? Texters, geezers, cellphone users? Recently, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has cranked up the heat on a major campaign to end distracted driving. Well, more power to him… except LaHood’s dsitracted campaign seems to equate driving while talking on a cell phone with driving while tripping on LSD. LaHood’s overkill has raised the ire of The Weekly Standard’s senior editor Andrew Ferguson, who rather eloquently protests what Ferguson (and a lot of others) see as one more good example of government’s overreaching foolishness.

Over the last several months LaHood has mobilized his vast and lavishly funded ($70 billion) department behind a high-minded goal: “to put an end to distracted driving.” Those are his words—not curtail, not discourage, not even reduce by 50 percent. No: Put an end to. In its ambition and method, LaHood’s initiative is a kind of textbook example of how government guys create work for themselves, manage to keep themselves busy, and put the rest of us on our guard.

Meanwhile, with LaHood overreaching and manufacturers of front-seat computer equipment over-promoting we will all have to remain on guard. Against cell phone talking drivers, texting drivers, Big Mac eating drivers and…. geezer drivers.

I, a certified geezer driver, am at risk for a crash. This is a daunting discovery when one is the only driver in a household that occasionally needs to be driven somewhere. My preference — being a resident of the beautiful, walkable city of San Francisco — is always either to walk or take the Muni, but let’s face it, there are times I need to be behind the wheel. And I hate to put you at risk. Or myself, or my passenger either, for that matter.

So you and I are about to get safer. With no help from Ray LaHood.

This all started with a recent post about geezer drivers, texting drivers and other hazards. Steven Aldrich, CEO of PositScience, commented on that post. PositScience makes brain-training software and I am not on their payroll. But I did take the “What’s my crash risk” test which you are also hereby invited to take. I whizzed through the tutorial with a whole bunch of “That’s right!” responses, then set about taking the Evaluation and promptly flunked. After a phone conversation with Aldrich and one of his software experts I am conceding that the problem is not with their software but with my geezer brain. (Try it yourself. Let me know if you fail, please, I would appreciate some company.) Here’s the deal with the test:

The Crash Risk Evaluation measures your “useful field of view”—how much your brain notices in your peripheral vision in a brief glance. Studies show that the size of a person’s useful field of view is closely correlated with car crash risk.

Useful field of view tends to shrink with age because the brain takes longer to process what it sees. As a result, in a single glance it only has time to take in what’s in the middle of a scene—not what’s in the periphery. A smaller useful field of view makes it less likely that you’ll notice potential dangers—like a car swerving into your lane or a dog running into the street—in time to avoid them.

Having had my performance on the Crash Risk Evaluation indicate that my useful field of view is smaller than average, I am deemed risky. I reserve the right to at least some suspicion about tricky tests — there is a product for sale here and clearly it wouldn’t sell if everyone passed with flying colors — but I do have a geezer brain.

Therefore, thanks to the generosity of PositScience, I am now in possession of the DriveSharp program which I’m starting tomorrow. It’s 10 hours, for heaven’s sake, so don’t look for safer roads in San Francisco this week.

This space will report on your improved road safety as my DriveSharpness progresses. Got any ideas about texting drivers?

11 responses

  1. From the perspective of someone who rides a motorcycle for commuting and pleasure, I am all in favor of a campaign to make driving about driving again. I am consistently amazed by the activities of drivers who are supposed to be responsible for piloting a two ton vehicle safely down a 12 ft wide lane at speeds of 70mph or better.

    • Thanks, Scott. From the perspective of a frequent endangered pedestrian and an infrequent, non-texting/calling driver who is forever unable to make eye contact with other, preoccupied drivers, I just wish we could return to the days when driving was to get from point A to point B. With both hands on the wheel and attention on the journey.

      • Believe me, I’m only 24 and I wish for the same exact thing. I see the same feeling in a lot of the more progressive people my age as well; so while there are significantly more culprits of texting/calling while driving among people my age (inherently so, given that we were raised with those products), there are also movements starting to take place. These movements aim towards taking us back to a simpler time, in so many words. Not necessarily a nostalgic movement, but just a movement for using common sense again.

  2. I once drove cross country with a driver who had sleep apnia and was prone to falling asleep at the wheel. I would *LOVE* it if the government mandated more sleep for everyone with a driver’s license.

    Our choice for truck drivers seemed to be either they could be sleepy or we could let them have ephedrine. I guess now we’ve settled on lettng them have “energy drinks.” And cell phones to text on.

  3. Also, I’m sort of guessing that the results of any company’s evaluation is going to be that you need to buy their software.

    • Sorry to clog up your comments, I really do appreciate an older person willing to admit that they could maybe use some help with their driving. Retirement-friendly places like FL and AZ can be a scary place to drive. Such places have been willing to issue someone over 70 a drivers license that is valid for up to 10 years.

      Anyway, as it turns out, I don’t need to guess. I just did a search of PositScience’s website and apparently you can only achieve two results:
      Average (you need our software) or
      Signficant Crash Risk (you really need it)
      http://www.positscience.com/search/node/

      • Well, thanks jcalton, especially for all that following up. PositScience offered to let me try their program without charge. Obviously they’re getting some PR, but it will be very bad PR if I finish the course and my useful field of view does not improve… so they’re at risk too. Since I’m one of those geezer drivers who does indeed need to continue driving, albeit infrequently, I will do anything possible to make my driving less hazardous to self & others. (I actually think I’m a pretty good driver, haven’t had a ticket of any sort in decades.) I do believe brain exercise has potential and hope this might be a positive example.

  4. Very nice article Fran!

    On the topic of older drivers…Keeping Us Safe has developed the “Enhanced Self-Assessment Program” for senior drivers.

    This individualized program has been designed to serve as a valuable tool in helping older drivers (and their families) make appropriate decisions regarding the future of ones safe driving career.

    If the individual is a safe driver, we provide him or her with strategies on how to remain a safe driver as they progress through the aging process. If driving retirement is the appropriate decision, then we provide the individual (and their family) with acceptable alternatives, resources and a very specific plan to ensure a smooth and successful transition from the drivers seat to the passenger seat.

    Please visit our website at http://www.keepingussafe.org or call us toll-free at 877-907-8841 to learn more about our unique programs.

    Thank you,

    Matt Gurwell
    Founder & CEO
    Keeping Us Safe
    Twitter: @keepingussafe

    • Thanks for introducing me to Keeping Us Safe, Matt. I visited your site, and will spend some more time there. It looks like you’re addressing many critical issues, such as how to approach family-member drivers who really shouldn’t be behind the wheel. Geezer-driving safety potential is looking better and better and this geezer is delighted. Maybe the movement to combat texting/phoning driving mentioned above by 24-yr-old T/S reader Tyler Hayes will also catch on. I’ll stay tuned.

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