The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

18 October 2005

The blue-hair test

Susanna reports on a school-bus accident in Wisconsin and wonders if maybe the fact that the driver was 78 years old and up past 2 am has something to do with it:

I think that drivers past a certain age should have to undergo testing that measures not just how well you see or hear, but actual reaction time. And I think that there needs to be provision for not selecting an older driver when there will be additional factors of concern — for example, driving a 20 mile loop in the daytime at speeds not exceeding 40 or so mph, in regular traffic that frequently slows you further, is very different from driving at 2 a.m., in the dark, after a day that may be in its 16th or 20th hour, at interstate speeds. The most important thing is the safety of the people involved, not the feelings of the driver. And accusations of "ageism" or "discrimination" need to be shouted down. No one who is 78 years old drives as well as someone who is 48. No one who is 78 drives as well as he himself did at 48. That should matter.

I'm about two-thirds of the way to 78 myself. And in some ways my driving has improved over the last thirty years: I've been working steadily on honing my skills, to the point where, if I'm certainly not qualified for racetrack duty, I definitely suck a lot less than J. Random Lunchpail over there in the center lane. But in terms of reaction time, a significant factor at any speed much over 0 mph, there's no way I'm as fast at 52 as I was at 22; the brain may still be working at close to top speed, but the brain doesn't interact directly with the wheel or with the pedals, and the parts that do don't move as fast as they used to.

To a certain extent, these factors offset one another: I may be ever-so-slightly slower, but experience, which brings with it the additional bonus of lower panic levels, makes up for it — right now, anyway. Should the state demand that I prove I'm still roadworthy when I'm 82, I'm not even going to complain.

Update, 19 October: The bus driver in question seems to have been posthumously exonerated.

Posted at 9:31 AM to Driver's Seat