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Hey, old lady, watch where you're going

I was behind the wheel of the car.

I had complete control, one hand on 10 o'clock, the other on 2, as I eased into the left-hand turn lane at the intersection.

As soon as I got the green arrow, I put my foot on the gas, hurtling the car into the middle of the intersection. Then I whipped the steering wheel to the left as hard and fast as I could.

If it wasn't a 90-degree turn, it was close.

"Patricia Ann!" scolded my mother, who was hanging on by her fingernails.

"They told us to make square turns," I said as I worked to keep the car in the lane with those going in the same direction I was.

"I don't think they meant that square," she said as she straightened out her clothes and planted herself back in her seat.

I was a 15-year-old driver-in-training. The they of square-turn admonitions was my driver's ed teacher.

My mother, God love her, was my co-pilot.

It seems like yesterday. I remember the intersection where it happened. I remember the look on my mother's face. It was somewhere between utter disbelief and sheer terror.

But in a split second, we realized how ridiculous the situation was. We were laughing, guffawing actually. In fact, we still laugh about it.

And now, all these years later, I'm just another old lady on the road. That square-turning kid, so vividly still me, is only years away from being part of the 20 percent of the U.S. population that is over 65. Yep, that's right. In November, the Senate Special Committee on Aging projected that by 2020, one in five Americans will be over 65.

Given the independent nature of those baby boomers, most of them will still be driving. And proud of it.

Now that's scary.

AAA has our back. The road safety advocate group realizes (because respondents to its survey told it so) that 90 percent of drivers over 65 would find it a problem if they could no longer drive — with half calling it a "serious" problem.

Gee, ya think?

Many of us have kids living in another state. Some of us wouldn't know our neighbors if we tripped over them on the sidewalk in front of our house. And our friends are as old as we are (and we drive better than they do, right?).

There is always the bus. But if we have a hard time plopping ourselves behind the wheel of our car and getting out of the driveway safely, how on earth will we be able to find a bus schedule, amble down to the bus stop, clamber on and off the bus and then trudge home with our bags of groceries a la Willy Loman?

AAA not only is trying to dispel the myth that old people can't drive (statistics back up the auto club), but it has assembled some cool online tools at seniordriving.aaa.com to keep us driving longer safely.

For instance, one exercise tries to help with problems we may have driving at night as we age.

AAA first tries to say that maybe, perhaps, conceivably, perchance, possibly we could try to think about not driving at night. But, if it absolutely can't be avoided — like if you have to drive your spouse to the emergency room, or to get a milkshake — there are tips to "minimize the challenges of night driving."

Example: Compensate for reduced visibility by decreasing your speed and increasing your following distance.

Slow down and stop tailgating? We know.

Example: Watch for sudden flashes of light at hilltops, around curves or at intersections, because these may indicate the presence of oncoming vehicles.

Look out for oncoming cars? We know.

Okay, this is where we should maybe, perhaps, conceivably, perchance, possibly try to admit to ourselves that we're not as young as we used to be. Our eyes don't work as well as they once did. Our reaction time, although still commendable, has probably been better.

And, I hate to say it, but, ahem, that means all of us (as in men, too). Look at the AAA chart. It shows women older than 65 are more likely to avoid traffic situations that may be considered dangerous. By their own admission, men older than 65 tend to drive in bad traffic, at night and under poor weather conditions.

What's the upshot? We all must be careful out there. It's just a fact that there will be more and more of us mature types on the roads.

We have to be brave enough to tell our friends and relatives — parents — when they should limit their driving or stop driving altogether.

And we have to be cool enough to listen when our friends or relatives — kids — tell us the same thing.

After all, the streets are dangerous enough with all those teenagers doing exactly what their driver's ed teachers have taught them.

Patti Ewald can be reached at pewald@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8746.

Knowing their limits

Percentage of drivers 65 or older avoiding traffic situations:

SituationMenWomen
Bad weather46%75%
Night driving3961
Heavy traffic3449
Unfamiliar roads2548
Long trips2044
Highways1429

Source: AAA

Hey, old lady, watch where you're going 04/13/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 1:29pm]

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