Focus on Older Drivers: Staying Safe on the Road

By Alex Perdikis

It happens to everyone: you walk into a room to get something and once you’re there you suddenly wonder, “Why did I come in here in the first place?” Admit it, you’ve done it. Busy lives and multitasking are sometimes the cause of this amusingly common experience. Getting older is another cause. As people age, they lose a little of the mental acuity they once had. They also may have less than perfect vision as well as hearing loss. All of which impact their driving.


“Driving can be particularly problematic for an older driver. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), older drivers have a higher fatality rate in crashes, based on miles driven, than any group except very young drivers.” —Alex Perdikis


Many of the fatalities occur because older people are frailer than younger drivers and succumb to their injuries. Clearly there’s a need for older drivers to adapt their driving practices and sharpen their skills as they age.

If you are an older driver, take steps now to hone your driving skills and adapt your driving practices to ensure your safety as well as the safety of others.

Problem – What Problem?

Layne Hall was born in Mississippi in either 1880 or 1884. Records weren’t always accurate back then. Either way, when he died in 1990, he was the oldest licensed driver in the U.S. He drove nearly 75 years and never received a ticket or citation of any kind. In fact, in January 1990, the same year he died, he received a commendation letter for a lifetime of safe driving from the New York State Commissioner of Motor Vehicles.

Not many older drivers are as fortunate as Hall, however. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists a range of difficulties aged drivers experience, including loss of cognitive functions and physical impairment.

After driving so many years, it isn’t always obvious to the senior driver that skills once easily used are now lacking. Sometimes, however, the loss of driving  abilities is painfully obvious. A senior may have narrowly avoided an accident at some point or been involved in an accident that was their fault.

If you’re over 60, it’s time to evaluate yourself. Answer the following questions:

  1. How is your eyesight? Can you read street signs, traffic lights, recognize someone you know and handle glare from headlights at night? When was the last time you had your eyes checked? Do you require new prescription glasses? Have a yearly comprehensive eye exam if you’re 60 or older.
  2. How’s your hearing? Hearing loss is common as people age. You may not be able to hear horns or emergency vehicle sirens, which could have tragic results. Have you had a hearing test lately?
  3. Are you able to move adequately in the driver’s seat? Can you look over your shoulder, move your foot easily from pedal to pedal and steer properly?
  4. Is driving more stressful for you now? Perhaps a medication you take makes you feel less aware, dizzy or sleepy is having an effect on your driving. Have you noticed a slower reaction time in normal driving situations?
  5. Has anyone expressed concern about the way you drive? It’s a red flag: if someone’s mentioned your driving, take note. Ask what did that concerned them. Don’t be offended. Take action.

What Can You Do?

Once you’ve identified problems, you can take positive steps to improve. If you haven’t had an eye and hearing exam recently, make an appointment. See your physician and ask about the medications you take, what their side effects are and seek advice about your ability to drive safely.

If your car is difficult to handle, consider trading it in for a car that better suits your current abilities. Newer cars often have safety features that let you know if you’re too close to another car and brake automatically in emergency situations. There are also aftermarket products you can add to your current vehicle to make it safer.

After making sure you’re physically able to drive, think about enrolling in a mature driver course. A senior driving class helps you brush up on skills, learn new techniques, discover the latest technologies and informs you about state-specific laws for senior drivers.

Most classes cover the following subjects related to senior driving:

  • Ways to minimize blind spots
  • Changing lanes safely
  • Right of way rules
  • Turns at intersections and U-turns
  • Laws for construction zones, school buses, cell phone use, child safety seats and other laws specific to your state as well as penalties assessed when laws are broken  

Additional Risks and Tips

Senior drivers are more at risk during specific less-than-optimal driving conditions. Avoid driving in rush hour traffic. Heavy traffic increases stress levels and requires faster reaction times. Night driving is often more difficult for seniors, so avoid it if you have trouble seeing when headlights approach. Stay home if you can during inclement weather. Your visibility may be further limited and your vehicle harder to control.

Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up driving. It does mean you have to evaluate your current abilities and focus on making positive changes.


Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.

From Blunders to Innovations: The Ups and Downs of Automotive Engineering

By Alex Perdikis

Everything you use today has a history. The cars we drive today are a far cry from the first internal combustion engine with integrated chassis invented by Karl Benz. But automotive engineering has had its share of ups and downs. Some of the “downs” have been spectacular, a few deadly.

Here’s a look at some of the worst automotive engineering fails as well as some impressive innovations throughout the years that keep you safer and cars more efficient.

The Pinto Firestorm

It didn’t take long for word to get out: Pintos were exploding when rear ended, even at low speeds.

People were dying in accidents, not because of traumatic injuries, but because they weren’t able to get out of a door-jammed vehicle that was on fire. The reason? Engineers had decided to place the gas tank behind the rear axle. It was a perfect setup for an explosion and fire.

Ford made a lot of mistakes during all aspects of the Pinto’s development and production. At least 27 people lost their lives and many more were injured. Ford’s actions and the severe penalties the company paid in civil suits put all vehicle manufacturers on notice: cutting corners and disregard for the safety of the driving public would not be tolerated.

Turbo-Rocket Fuel for Your Car!

Sounds futuristic, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want a turbo-rocket fueled car? You could have had one in 1962.

The Olds Jetfire was the first production car to use water injection. Dubbed “Turbo-Rocket Fuel,” the fluid was a mix of water and alcohol. The problem was the requirement that owners keep the fuel topped off. A sensor that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t was supposed to trip a valve that limited boost when fuel was low. Since it didn’t always work, drivers found themselves stranded on the road with a dead engine.

So much for turbo-rocket fuel.

Want Some Yugo With That?

Just about everything about the Yugo was wrong. It was supposed to be the compact economy car for people of modest means. Of course, a red flag should have gone up in a buyer’s mind when “carpet” was listed as a standard feature.

As soon as Yugos began hitting the road, reports of parts falling off spontaneously and zero reliability began to surface. The worst was to come when a Yugo driver crossing Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge during a windstorm was blown off the bridge and into the water 150 F below.

Yugos are gone, but their infamous legend lives on.

Model-T Matters

Ford may have dropped the ball with the Pinto, but the company has a long history of innovation.

The Model-T was built full of engineering innovations and creative designs, many of which are still in use today. Henry Ford was the father of low-cost mass vehicle production, which in turn made the Model-T affordable for the working people of its time.

But beyond productivity, the Model-T was also an engineering marvel. It was the first engine that used a separate removable cylinder head with cylinders cast within the engine block, a mainstay of modern engines.

What’s a Spyker?

Not many people have heard of a Spyker. But, the 1903 Spyker, a Dutch sports car, was the first vehicle with four-wheel drive.

Four-wheel drive didn’t catch on with passenger vehicles until much later, however. Military vehicles and farm equipment utilized four-wheel drive during much of the 20th century, but it wasn’t until 1980 when Audi introduced its four-wheel drive luxurious sports coupe, the Quattro that the public became aware of what they’d been missing.

Drivers suddenly realized that four-wheel drive was not only safer in adverse conditions, but it was pretty cool as well.

Buckle Up

Perhaps the most life-saving innovation ever devised was the seat belt. In 1959 Nils Bohlin, a Volvo engineer with an aviation background, came up with the three-point safety belt we all use today. Previously, the belt only covered the driver’s lap. The three-point protected the torso as well.


“Instead of exploiting its groundbreaking seat belt design, Volvo opened the patent to allow all auto manufacturers to use it, thus saving millions of lives.”
— Alex Perdikis


Power Everything

You have to be of a certain age to remember when steering a big old car took a lot of arm strength. Power steering has been around since the earliest automobile, but it was too expensive to be a viable commercial venture.

Chrysler’s 1951 Imperial Hydraguide changed all that. Power brakes were soon to follow, giving nearly everyone the ability to steer and brake efficiently.

Crash Test Dummies Prove Airbags Work

Air bags as a safety feature were widely adopted by the late 1980s, saving thousands of lives each year. Continued improvements in airbag technology include General Motors’ front and center air bag, which, when tested using crash test dummies, demonstrated a positive driver and front passenger outcome in side-impact crashes. In other words, the dummies lived.

What the Future Holds

Much of the future is already here, with driverless cars and vehicle sensors that take over before you know you’re at risk. Vehicle innovations are constantly being developed and improved as manufacturers and engineers learn from their mistakes and build on their successes to make driving safer for you and your family.    


Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.

Alex Perdikis’ Tips for Driving Emergencies

By Alex Perdikis

You don’t like to think about experiencing a driving emergency but every driver deals with some kind of unexpected event over the course of a driving career. It could be something as minor as a flat tire or something more frightening like being stranded on a snowy highway for hours.


“It’s important to prepare yourself mentally and physically beforehand to handle emergencies both large and small.” — Alex Perdikis


Before You Rev It Up: Get Ready

Mother Nature, other drivers and odd events can put you in a place you never imagined. But, before you head out on the road, there are steps you can take to increase your safety even if the unexpected happens.

First, evaluate your car. Are you keeping up with routine maintenance? Examine the following checklist and take care of anything you’ve neglected.

  1. Check your tires. Are they inflated to the correct tire pressure recommended for your make and model? Have you had the tires rotated? Are your tires worn? Do they need replacing?
  2. Check the belts and hoses. Maintain and replace engine belts as needed.
  3. Check your wiper blades. Replace if worn.
  4. Check all vital fluid levels. Maintain proper levels and fill when required.
  5. Check all lights, including headlights, turn signal lights and taillights.
  6. Check your battery and connections. Replace the battery if you notice slow engine cranks, you see leakage or, as a general rule, replace every three years.
  7. Check your spare tire. Is it functional? Do you have all the necessary equipment you need to change a flat if you have to?

The next step in your preparedness plan is to pack an emergency kit to keep in your vehicle. You can purchase pre-made kits, but putting one together yourself has its advantages. You’ll know exactly what’s in your kit if you put it together yourself and you’ll be able to customize it to fit your individual needs. Here’s a basic list of items to pack:

    • First Aid Kit: Again, you can purchase pre-made kits or put the kit together yourself. Include band-aids, hand sanitizer, antiseptic, antibiotic ointment, cotton balls, gauze, insect spray, tweezers and an Ace bandage. If you have specific medical requirements, include a supply of medications you’ll need if you’re stranded for a long period of time.
    • Fire Extinguisher: Choose an easily packed extinguisher with a small footprint.
    • Car Essentials: Include jumper cables, ice scraper, cat litter for traction and road flares.
    • Flashlights and Extra Batteries: You can’t have enough light if you’re stranded in the dark.
    • Drinking Water and Non-Perishable Snacks: Choose high-calorie snacks that’ll keep you warm and full.
    • Toilet Paper and Baby Wipes: Both help you stay clean and are multipurpose.
    • Blankets and Extra Clothing: Stay warm and dry with warming blankets and extra clothing.
    • Cheap Cellphone and Charger: Purchase an inexpensive prepaid cell phone and keep it active to use in an emergency.

Pack your emergency kit in a clear plastic box, preferably a box that lets you pack everything in a single layer so you don’t have to rummage around to find something. Make sure the lid is secure. Keep track of what’s in your kit and replace outdated or used items as soon as possible.

On the Road

The car’s in great shape and you have your emergency kit packed up. Before you head out, make sure your phone is fully charged. Check the weather reports. Is there snow or heavy rain in the forecast? Get gas before heading for the highway if your tank isn’t full. Mentally prepare yourself for the road conditions you’ll encounter.

Unfortunately, you can’t plan away every scenario. Imagine you’re on a jam-packed highway and up ahead there’s an accident or a road closure. If you find yourself trapped between cars on a highway, you may be in for a long haul. Or you may, for whatever reason, find yourself in at the side of the highway awaiting rescue. What should you do?

  1. Let someone know where you are. Call work if you’re late, family members to let them know where you are and report your situation to law enforcement.
  2. Turn the car off. If you know you’ll be stuck for hours, don’t waste gas idling. Only turn the car on for heat as needed until traffic is moving again.
  3. In snow? Check your tailpipe. If your tailpipe is obstructed, carbon monoxide can leak into your car and kill you. Clear any snow or ice from your tailpipe. It’s a simple check that can save your life. Check periodically to watch for ice formation or blockages.
  4. If you’ve been forewarned about icy or snowy road conditions, choose your path wisely. In some cases, using local roads instead of the highway is a better choice. If you drive on the highway in snow or ice, leave yourself plenty of room to navigate if traffic stops. You may be able to turn around or get off the highway at some point, but if you tailgated and are packed in tight with other vehicles, you’ll be stuck for awhile.

As always, follow the directions of law enforcement. With preparation and a little patience, a vehicle emergency can be managed, you’ll come out just fine and you’ll have a great story to tell.


Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.