What is the right age to start driving and when should one stop

  • | Monday | 27th November, 2023

By: Shrenik GandhiThere have been many reports of accidents involving minors and senior citizens in the city. I drive several kilometres to my workplace every day, and I often see motorists who dont seem to be comfortable with their vehicles. I see young scooterists forgetting to indicate, braking too hard and turning without looking. As for car drivers, I see many finding it difficult to navigate Punes narrow roads and perplexed by traffic.Worryingly, many dont even know what the road signs mean; others cant seem to spot them.Its an important set of questions to ask ourselves: When should we start driving and when should we stop? The legal age to start in our country is 18, but there are conditions. Should a young person, still a student, be allowed to drive a high-performance car or bike? In India, there are cars and bikes on sale that can reach speeds of up to 200kmph, with ease. Is it wise to start with such vehicles when an unwritten rule states each additional horsepower has to be earned?Now, one may argue that fast and expensive cars come with an array of safety systems and alerts — half a dozen airbags, lane-departure warnings, drowsiness alerts etc. However, a worrying number of these expensive models also pack large screens that tend to distract even the most experienced of drivers. In some models, a driver has to actually reach into the multimedia display to adjust air-conditioning — there are no physical knobs. That is a serious problem given how addicted we are to screens. These digital screens are large, full of distracting data and away from the windscreen area. A call alert or a brightly lit icon has the potential to distract the driver from spotting a pedestrian.Another problem among young drivers is recklessness and a risk-tolerance. Simply put, they are okay with high speeds. One study in Delhi found that in the first seven months of this year (till July), there were 3,780 accident cases in the city involving those in the age group of 21-30 years, with a total of 9,875 victims. All of last year, there were 5,436 cases and 15,399 victims in this age group. Many data sets support calls for a rethink on the minimum driving age, across countries. In my view, we need to arrive at a system that can grade drivers based on the hours spent behind the wheel, similar to how airline pilots are certified (flying hours). This means a young driver shouldnt be allowed on the new high-speed expressways — Maharashtras Samruddhi for example — unless she or he has clocked at least a year in intra-city traffic. Another three years behind the wheel, after the age of 18, and then the beautiful, but risky roads to Leh and nearby regions could open up. These are ideas, and Im sure there are experts out there who could suggest effective solutions.Next, we come to the elderly. Driving becomes a difficult task as the body ages.Studies show a 55-year-old can take eight times longer to recover from glare than a 16-year-old; those over 60 need 10 times as much light to drive as a 19-year-old. Essentially, our eyes and backs are not what they used to be. The decision to stop driving can be a painful one — some elderly love their cars; theyre also some of the most experienced motorists on our roads. But given the traffic today — in cities like Pune — a single error may prove to be catastrophic. Senior citizens may experience serious fatigue, side-effects from medication, cognitive decline in some cases and reduced reaction time. Again, the decision to stop driving wont be an easy one. But its one that awaits all of us.

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