I'VE JOINED THE RANKS OF 18.5 MILLION ELDERLY drivers who have problems on America's roadways.

My inability to effectively cope with oncoming headlights seems to have reached epidemic proportions. Also my personal challenge to merge into traffic speeding down a freeway is easily explained — an aged arthritic neck is hard to turn for a look at what's coming.

Driving on a throughway throws me. It seems the entire world is in a hurry. Unless I travel in the low-speed right lane abutting the breakdown lane, I'm constantly saluted with middle fingers by youthful drivers in the faster lanes and who consider those their domains.

I'm not permitted to drive at night. I'm unconfident when oncoming traffic on a two-lane highway momentarily impairs my vision. It makes my wife anxious. So she does all the night driving.

The positive side is that I have a chauffeur each time I find myself in an after-dark situation.

Amy Dickinson, wrote an April article in Families headlined, “Staying on the road — techniques and technology to help older people drive more safely.”

She reports MIT researchers have developed a “smart car” to test technologies that may extend the driving careers of older people.

In this context, it amazes me that the U.S. auto industry, with all its engineering skills, cannot find answers for oncoming headlight glare so elderly people can continue to drive at night.

MIT's “smart car” is also outfitted with driving simulators and bumper-mounted sensors that use radar to activate collision warnings.

The collision system gauges the speed and distance of oncoming traffic, providing driver data for senior citizens trying to make left turns — “most common cause of crashes involving the elderly drivers,” says Dickinson.

Dr. Robert Rawley is a Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles medical advisor who is studying 2,500 drivers at five-year intervals to see how age affects driving skills. He says, “As vision starts to diminish, drivers are blinded by the halo affect of lights at night.”

Although there is much less traffic at night, more than half of all accidents occur after dark. The most dangerous time is between 9 p.m.-3 a.m. on weekends. One explanation is there are three times as many alcohol-related crashes at night.

However the fact remains that some sober drivers cannot see as well at night, particularly older drivers. When the sun sets, all drivers need to slow down and dim your high beams.

In most states it is illegal to use high beams within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle. High beams can blind another driver, particularly older drivers who take up to eight times as long to recover from glare as a teenager.

Also, many sporty models today have an extra set of driving or fog lights. These lights should be used sparingly in well-lit urban areas and they should be kept focused on the road, not shining into the eyes of oncoming drivers.

Divers education classes designed for older people, such as those offered by the AARP and the National Safety Council, can teach how to maintain a safe distance between vehicles.

Where do America's new vehicle dealers realistically fit into the safety solution for older drivers? The National Automobile Dealers Association has sponsored several programs promoting safe driving for elderly drivers.

Illinois and New Hampshire require a road test every two or four years for drivers age 75 and older. Other states have accelerated renewals at two-year intervals and require vision tests after age 65.

Iowa and Florida are following new guidelines set down by the National Highway Traffic Safety. Those are designed to help older drivers by enlarging the typeface on street signs, creating more left-hand turn lanes and improving roadway lighting.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggests more four-way stop signs alone would reduce accidents by 50%.

There is a major problem on our highways which involves many of our senior citizen drivers. Some states have stepped up to the challenge. Others need to.


Nat Shulman was owner of Best Chevrolet in Hingham, MA for many years.