My dad was a great person, a real stand-up guy. On the downside, he was a lousy driver.
For one thing, he was impatient behind the wheel, a mild form of road rage. Being in a car with him driving was disconcerting, like holding hands with someone wielding a metal pole in a lightning storm.
He took a commuter train to work. The day I got my driver's license, it became my daily job to pick him up at the train stop and turn over the wheel for the ride home. It was wild.
He'd dart in and out of traffic, tailgate and drive in fits and starts. To block it out visually, I'd hold an open newspaper in front of my face, looking like I had a keen interest in current events for a 16 year old.
My dad had a stroke when he was 60. It wiped out his peripheral vision and ended his driving days. He went from being one of the worst drivers to one of the worst backseat drivers.
One night, I was driving with him in the car. I took a wrong turn and started to back up. He yelled, “Look out for those kids!” I braked fast, expecting to hear the sound of young bones snapping. I heard nothing, except for heavy breathing. Mine.
After doing the math and subtracting, oh, about a year from my life, I looked all around. “What kids?” I said. “I don't see any kids.” In the darkness, my dad had misidentified two small trees planted near the curb.
Today, I'm nearing the age he was when he hung up his car keys. I hope to drive for many more years. So it piqued my interest that this year's New York auto show included a special presentation, “Smart Vehicle Features for Mature Drivers.”
“It is imperative that the specific needs of aging motorists be addressed in order for them to continue to drive safely and remain independent,” says Robert L. Darbelnet, president of the American Automobile Assn.
People over age 65 are a fast-growing population segment. Joining that group in waves are aging Baby Boomers, such as myself, born between 1946 and 1964. An estimated 40 million drivers age 65 and older will be on the road by 2020.
So look out. Here we come.
AAA has compiled a list of 20 features that mature drivers should look for when buying vehicles.
Drivers with hip, leg and knee problems should check out vehicles with 6-way adjustable power seats and adjustable pedals.
Motorists with arthritic hands and diminished motor skills would benefit from 4-door models (coupe doors are heavier), thick steering wheels and keyless entry/ignition systems.
Extendable sun visors and wide-angle mirrors help senior citizens with fading vision, AAA says.
One vehicle was lauded at the New York auto show for having all 20 cited features that make driving easier and safer for folks who aren't as agile as they were when they frolicked at Woodstock.
Hint: It's not a Mercury Grand Marquis, a big sedan often associated with and driven by people who look like their first car was a Hupmobile.
Instead, AAA and a University of Florida study rate the Hyundai Veracruz cross/utility vehicle from South Korea as No.1 for the not-getting-any-younger set. How do you say, “Land sakes” in Korean?
By the way, a Rand Corp. study says older folks are relatively good drivers, especially when compared with young motorists who are more likely to speed, not use seatbelts and drink and drive.
“By far, it is the youngest drivers who pose the greatest risk to traffic safety,” says David Loughran, who led that study.
So a car designed for Generation Y might include a governor to limit speed, seatbelts that automatically secure occupants and an in-dash breathalyzer that kills the engine at a 0.08 blood-alcohol level.
After all, if senior citizens get their own car, then by golly, whippersnappers should get theirs, too.