Risk vs. freedom: Older-driver debate leaves difficult choices

The Daytona Beach News-Journal recently wrote an article featuring a COS professor titled “Risk vs. freedom: Older-driver debate leaves difficult choices.”

When it comes to our cognitive abilities and reflexes, humans reach their peak early in life, said Dr. Janan Smither, a professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida who specializes in aging.

Starting at age 18, we embark upon a slow, gradual decline. Making a decision takes longer. Vision deteriorates. Reaction times slow.

“It’s sort of all downhill from there,” Smither said. “It’s not necessarily a pretty picture.”

Age also takes a physical toll on the body that makes driving harder, she said. The elderly might have difficulty turning their heads and performing other quick maneuvers required when driving. They are also more likely to be on medication that can impair their driving.

On the road, these factors can “snowball” into a dangerous situation, Smither said. Older drivers will notice a construction sign warning of a closed lane less quickly than someone who is younger. That gives them less time to react and move out of the lane.

Older drivers do have one advantage over their younger peers, Smither said. Experience plays in their favor.

Smither often asks her students what the safest car on the road is. The students usually rattle off different automakers.

That’s not the answer. The safest car, she tells them, is the one with a 45-year-old behind the wheel.

That’s the age when cognitive function is still good, but experience has given drivers the tools they need to avoid crashes.

To read the entire article please click here.

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