Top Gear Philippines

Old age and driving

I recently got a call from a car-industry friend, Ronald Baladad, who is a usually jolly fellow employed by Isuzu Philippines Corporation. He is known around the industry as a funnyman, able to disarm men and women alike with his natural knack for comedy. But Ronald was not in any way jolly or funny during the call. He sounded distressed.

"Is there an age limit for drivers?" he asked. I thought it over for a second, then realized I didn’t know of one. I knew of a minimum age requirement for drivers, but an age limit?

"I don’t think there’s one, but I’ll check with the LTO," I replied. I asked Ronald why he needed to know.

"I just got into an accident," he explained. "An old driver rammed into my car. When I asked for his license, I found out he was already 80 years old."

Now, Ronald wasn’t pissed at the old man. He probably felt sympathy more than anything else. What he was miffed about was the fact that the LTO had issued a driver’s license to a very old person who--as the accident ultimately showed--was no longer qualified to operate a motor vehicle.

So I paid the Land Transportation Office website a visit and, sure enough, didn’t find anything that pertained to a driving age limit. I then performed further Google-aided research and discovered that the maximum-driving-age conundrum is common around the world, including developed countries like the United States. In the US, in fact, there are still some states that don’t have policies designed to regulate motor-vehicle usage among old drivers.

Now that we’ve brought up the topic, I think it’s imperative that we answer the inevitable question: "Do old drivers pose a serious threat on the road?" Of course, "old" is a relative term. What’s old to you may not be old to me. Besides, chronological oldness (or literal age based on earth years) may not always correspond directly to a feeling of oldness. A healthy 60-year-old who has taken meticulous care of his body may actually feel a lot younger than a washed-out 40-year-old who has indulged in a lifelong diet of nicotine and alcohol. Heck, I’m 37 and I sometimes feel like I’m 64. I have no doubt Fidel V. Ramos will outrun me in a sprint contest.

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But just for the purposes of discussion, let’s put a number to our concept of old. Let’s make it 65, which, I believe, is the compulsory age of retirement in the Philippines. We can thus paraphrase our question as: "Do drivers 65 years old and older pose a serious threat on the road?"

I think that, in general, sexagenarians and older people are at a significant disadvantage in terms of their mental and physical faculties, as compared to drivers who are, say, 20 years their junior. Whether you’ve taken great care of your body or not, there are many factors of aging that are simply irreversible. When you hit 60, I don’t care if you’ve gorged on vegetables all your life--you will undergo major physiological changes. That’s a cruel fact of life. I have yet to reach 40 but I’ve long prepared myself for this bit.

Visibility, for one, deteriorates. It has been found that the light received by the photoreceptor of a 60-year-old eye is just one-third of the light perceived by a 20-year-old eye. This means everything appears dimmer to an old person. Precisely why our grandparents sometimes don’t recognize us from a distance (although my late grandmother once complained that it was only because I had gotten a lot fatter).

Then there’s the matter of the reflexes. As we age past 35--and you should agree with me on this one if you’re past 35--we gradually become slower. This becomes increasingly evident every time we get up from bed in the morning or hit the gym on the weekend. You’ll be in denial at first, but sooner or later you will just have to accept the reality that you’ve lost the quickness of your youth. There is always that one instance when you will be made fully aware of this. My own moment came on a basketball court earlier this year when I tried to chase the ball and failed miserably.

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There’s also the decline in mental sharpness. As we age, our memory and cerebral alertness go downhill. This early, I’m already absentmindedly missing a turn every now and then. I dread the thought of driving when I’m 50--if I’ll live to that age to begin with. An old brain no longer has the acuity to learn new things, so you can just imagine the effort an old person exerts whenever he or she drives a new-generation car with all the newfangled switchgear and space-age dashboard layout.

Most of all, old people need to contend with the many physical aches that their bodies subject them to on a daily basis. It amazes me now whenever a new kind of pain appears from seemingly out of nowhere inside my body. One moment it’s the knees, the next it’s the feet. I find it amusing now, but I know all of this will feel torture a decade down the road. Imagine what a 70-year-old must be feeling just sitting in a chair, never mind driving a car. Merely turning the neck to check for other cars must already be an excruciating exercise.

According to the National Statistics Office, the Philippine population now stands at 92 million. Based on the NSO’s 2000 figures (yes, our statistics are this outdated), those 65 years old and older accounted for 3.8% of the population then. If this percentage were still accurate today, the Philippines would currently have 3.5 million individuals who are at least 65 years old. Of this astounding number, how many still drive a car? And of those who still drive a car, how many are no longer fit to do so?

I mean no disrespect to old people, but I think it’s time we put in place a concrete regulatory system that would check the use of motor vehicles among the elderly. I often encounter slow-moving senior drivers on the road. It’s not only inconvenient, it’s also dangerous.

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Most of us probably think it must be pretty cool to still be driving a sleek automobile even when we’re already 80, but trust me, there is nothing cool about joint aches and memory lapses.

 

Vernon B. Sarne
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