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Former professor to create course aimed at retraining elderly drivers

Professor emeritus Seymour Bogdonoff will tell you, "I drive a fast car," and he continues to enjoy putting it to use.

Currently a senior research scholar, Bogdonoff is an expert in high-speed aerodynamics. His specialty is hypersonics, the study of extremely high speed travel. Now, his attention has been caught by travel at a more mundane pace – car travel.


Bogdonoff, at 76, believes the stereotype that all older drivers are poorer drivers is just not true. However, he is working on a program to train older drivers to drive well.

He proposed that the cause of poor driving among the elderly has little to do with age and a great deal to do with practice. The elderly, he said, are out of the practice of driving. His driver education program will allow older drivers to safely practice necessary skills.

Bogdonoff became interested in the problem after his wife encouraged him to attend a conference on aging issues. "I started doing research on the subject," he said.

Government statistics show that "as you get older, you drive less," Bogdonoff said, adding that "any skill that you use less, you become less skilled at." He said that "older people in general have slower reaction times," but "if you take healthy elderly and give them some training, their reaction time can be better than it ever was before."

'Key to independence'

Bogdonoff said he believes the training program he has developed can make older drivers good drivers. He said this is important, because "I realized that driving is the key to independence. It's even more true for the elderly."

The training program is split into six parts. The first of these is a series of tests to determine the drivers' abilities.


Lectures on driving technique follow these tests. Next, he said the drivers will learn and practice "key elements which are crucial in driving skills." This part of the training will utilize simulators. "You can practice elements of driving without ever driving," he said.

The simulators will help elderly regain a wide range of visual and cognitive skills, he said. Bogdonoff noted that simulators exist for truck drivers, pilots and race car drivers, but such simulators are not used in standard driving training.

Bogdonoff said the fifth step is to put each "individual in their own car, not on a public road." The drivers will practice with their car on a closed road, becoming comfortable and honing their skills.

They will then be evaluated, and professionals will provide additional assistance. Drivers will be asked to return for reevaluation six months later.

Remaining busy

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Since he stopped teaching about eight years ago, Bogdonoff has remained busy doing research at the University. Marianna Rashkin '97 assisted him in studying the issue of elderly driving during her senior year. Bogdonoff said he currently has "a batch of things I'd like to get students doing," including developing aspects of the course and analyzing data such as accident reports.

Now he is trying to find the capital necessary to implement his program. "So far, I'm funding the whole thing myself," he said. He explained that he is looking for money from venture capitalists, foundations and other sources, but said that for a professor, "it's a whole new world."

The course will "not be inexpensive because it's professional time, and you can't do it in an hour or two."

Bogdonoff said that almost all drivers would benefit from more practice. "It ought to be much harder to get a driver's license." He said that his program would help not just the elderly, but everyone. In fact, he said he thinks the University "should provide it for all students."