My car got hit last weekend, by an elderly gentleman in a hurry, whose eyesight may not have been the greatest, and who was distracted by a task. I am very glad no one got hurt, and the car is repairable. But it has been interesting to hear the reactions of my friends and relatives. They ranged from concern for the elderly gentleman (because such events tend to shake up elders more than youngsters), to expressed opinions that he should have his driver’s license taken away (because, “what if that had been a child?”). The problem is, both concerns are valid.
As people get older, some of us find our body and/or our mind does not function quite as well as it once did. [Don’t you love the way I gently phrased that? 🙂 ] This feels scary! It usually means we have to slow down a little, and/or our independence becomes limited. People are afraid of where that might lead, so they hold on to as much control as they can. One very big area is being able to drive, especially if they live in an area where public transportation is not good or non-existent (such as ours). Even in areas where there is decent public transportation (such as Southern California), if a person is used to driving all their life, by the time they get older they may not be able to manage the concept of time tables and routes. My mother lost her sight in one eye, so was restricted to driving only during the day. Later she had trouble with cataracts, but she kept that fact hidden from the Department of Motor Vehicles by memorizing the eye chart, and continued to drive for another five to seven years. She finally quit driving when she moved to a new area, and did not have all the routes memorized. A lot of elders will do anything to keep their driver’s license, because that loss of control and independence is frightening. However, it is a gradual change; it is not always obvious when they cross that line into un-safe driving. Many continue driving until law enforcement or their doctor takes their license away from them.
The argument that they are endangering others by continuing to drive is valid. My accident happened in a residential neighborhood, where there are lots of families. The official speed limit is 25 miles per hour, but I drive at 15-20 mph, because you never know when a kid might dart out into the street. No matter how much of a hurry you are in, or how distracted by a task, you need to drive safely.
I value my independence. But when someday (years from now!) it becomes obvious I cannot drive safely, I hope I have the determination and strength to give up my driver’s license, and figure out other ways to get around. If you are behind me as I get on the Dial-a-Ride bus, please be patient as I climb those few steps! 🙂