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David Mittleman
David Mittleman
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Safe to Drive While Old?

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It's taboo to talk about age, but age-related health conditions are a serious problem for road safety. There are plenty of jokes about older drivers and while these can be offensive, there is some truth to the punch lines. For example, a recent study found that elderly people with blind spots could not react quickly enough to hazardous road conditions, leading to pedestrian injuries.

For the study, the researchers looked at 11 people with blind spots of different sizes to the left or right of center of the eye, where pedestrians or other road hazards usually appear. The participants drove for 90 minutes in a simulator at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Boston. A comparison group of participants who did not have blind spots also drove for 90 minutes in the simulator. The drivers travelled down the road at a speed of 30 to 60 mph, depending on whether they were driving in a city or country course. While driving, pedestrians appeared about once per minute on the side of the road and drivers were asked to honk the horn if they spotted the pedestrians. The participants with the blind spots were slower to respond than those without blind spots, and were slowest to respond when the pedestrian appeared in their blind spot.

The U.S. vision requirements for driving focus on acuity, which is measured by having drivers read letters on a chart on the wall. In comparison, parts of Europe and the UK test for blind spots for drivers to qualify for a license. This doesn't necessarily mean that the U.S. needs more regulations for getting a driver's license; instead, experts suggest that eye doctors talk with their patients about their blind spots, where they are in the eye, and how to be watchful on the road. In addition, many elderly drivers may stop driving altogether. In fact, 8 of the 11 participants in the study with blind spots had already stopped driving. Nevertheless, it is important to stay on top of vision-related problems so that we can all be safe on the roads.

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    David:

    Thanks for letting your readers know about this important safety issue. I wrote a simialr article expressing my concern when I was representing the family of a little boy who was backed over by an elderly driver.

    The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists has created a website with advice to help people determine if their family members are safe to drive.

    I posted a link in my article.

    Keep up the good work!

    http://www.halifaxpersonalinjurylawyerblog.com/2010/11/elderly_drivers_how_old_is_too.html