Teen drivers have lately been in the crosshairs of ranting moms and rat-faced politicians looking for an easy issue to ride into office on. There’s some legitimacy to it, admittedly. Teen drivers are inexperienced and often (but not always) immature. That can and does result in mistakes behind the wheel. But the same is true of Oldster Drivers (though for different reasons) yet it’s rare to hear similar calls to action directed against them.
You don’t mess with old people – if you’re a politician. The Blue-Haired Army is a mighty force with time and resources to field. This is why Social Security is untouchable – and it’s why you can’t go a week without rolling up on someone senescent behind the wheel of an ’86 Century straddling the center line and doing at least five MPH less than the posted speed limit – slowing for the curves.
It’s also why every few days there’s a story on the tube about some veteran of the Spanish-American War crashing through the plate glass window of a gas station, upsetting the Cheetos and meat snacks.
Not everyone past a certain age is past it, of course. There are people in their 80s who are better drivers than people in their 20s. But the people we have to worry about are the ones who were terrible drivers when they were in their 40s, when they could still see and hear and it didn’t take 15-20 seconds for a signal to travel from their brain to their foot, telling it to hit the brake instead of the gas.
What’s annoying is how easy it would be to weed out such drivers without subjecting everyone over, say, 65, to another layer of annoying DMV rigmarole.
And of course, fees.
The problem is the system – cops, the DMV, courts – gives oldsters a pass out of some misplaced deference to the aged. A couple of years of ago, I wasted an entire Saturday at one of those DMV-operated “driver education” operations that people agree to go to in exchange for the court deep-sixing some minor traffic ticket. It’s worth putting up with the eight hours of mechanically recited cant to dodge the insurance premium surcharges that often cruise into your mailbox after even a single moving violation pops up on your DMV rap sheet.
During the course of the speil, the instructor – who happened to be a cop – lectured us about the need to accommodate Oldster Driving. If we roll up on a febe doing 20 less than the posted limit, we should just be patient, he explained – for one day, we too shall be old.
I sat there thinking to myself: How come the same logic doesn’t apply to drunk driving? Or even tailgating? Is dangerous driving only bad when it’s the result of temporary impairment or conscious choice? I mean, not to be hateful or whatever – but isn’t bad driving bad driving, whatever the reason? Does it matter to the person who gets T-boned whether the person who T-Boned him is a drunk college kid or a nice old man with Alzheimer’s?
Here’s how it could work:
Cops could patrol the roads, instead of sitting in cut-outs running radar while they watch porno and eat doughnuts. When they witness objectively unsafe driving – things like tailgating, wandering across the double yellow, erratic/slow driving – they go after it just as aggressively as they currently do “speeders” (whose “speeding” is almost always nothing more than a Technical Foul violation of an under-posted limit and which has nothing to do with safe driving).
People who tailgate (and who drive so slowly they create a rolling roadblock, with a conga line of cars stretching half a mile behind them) are much more of a hazard than the driver running 54 in a 45. But it takes more effort to go after the Slowsters (and tailgaters) than it does to shoot fish in a barrel with a radar gun.
And our society is overly deferential to Oldsters – at least when it comes to driving.
If the cops actually pulled over the guy in that ’86 Century doing 37 in a 55 instead of expecting everyone to “be patient” there’d likely be a lot fewer incidents of Grampa driving through a plate glass window at 7-11 and cutting Gupta’s legs off at the knees.
But it won’t happen because Oldsters have plenty of time on their hands – and they vote. Politicians live by fear and won’t cross the Geritol Generation.
Teenagers are much easier meat.