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Many current elders know from dealing with aged parents how fraught the issue of driving is as people get old. There is good reason to fear giving up the car keys: depending on where you live, doing so means your ability to move around becomes severely limited, possibly dependent on the kindnesses of family and friends or not easily affordable to hire taxis or car services.
Public transportation in the U.S. ranges from excellent in a few place to non-existent with iffy being the norm often involving lengthy walks and of course, if it’s a shopping trip you can’t buy much because you must carry it home.
And almost all trips, without a car, are longer and more tiring. Giving up driving ain’t fun to contemplate.
As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, aging happens to individuals at dramatically different rates. A 50-something can be impaired enough that he or she can no longer drive. Some 90-somethings drive as safely as they did half a century earlier.
Of course, we all believe we will become the capable 90-year-old. (What else are all those sudoku puzzles for?) But when we think about it rationally, that is not statistically possible.
So I believe it is incumbent upon us to monitor our own driving (don’t place the burden on the kids to force the keys out of your hand when the time comes) and, additionally, to plan now for getting around without a car.
My friend John Brandt sent me a link to a story at Everyday Health with some suggestions on how to monitor our own (or others’) driving skills. Among the warning signs that it’s time to re-evaluate:
- * Stopping at green lights or when there is no stop sign
- Hitting the gas instead of the brakes
- Stopping within an intersection
- Getting confused by traffic signals
- Running stop signs or red lights
- * Accidents
- * Getting lost frequently
- Changing lanes without looking
These are mostly reasonable except that it would be wrong to blindly apply them to everyone in all circumstances. I placed asterisks by three items that need more clarity.
Stopping when there is no stop sign. I need to do that a lot where I live because except in winter, a large number of stop signs are hidden behind densely leafy trees. Or, sometimes not. Better to be safe by stopping.
Accident. Well, obviously you must ask who caused it. Just because an old person is involved doesn’t mean he or she is the cause. Statistically, young drivers, mostly male, have the worst driving records. An accident in and of itself does not necessarily mean an elder’s driving days are done.
Getting lost frequently. I get lost pretty much every time I drive somewhere I’ve never been by car before – even with GPS – and it’s not because I’m impaired (yet). It happens so frequently that when I have an appointment at a given time, I add 30 minutes travel to find my way again after getting lost.
Here, the reason is the sorriest street signage I have ever seen. There are places you can drive blocks with no signs for side street names. Or, often, when you’ve made a turn on a guess, you can drive a couple of miles before you find a sign with the name of the road you’re on.
So it is not always the old person’s fault. But sometimes it is and that, coupled with extreme reluctance to give up driving, can lead to terrible accidents.
My favorite personal solution would be to live in Manhattan or northwest Portland, Oregon, where it is possible to do just about everything you need via shank’s mare and good public transportation. Unfortunately, I can afford neither.
So here is what I do: I always drive as if there were a DMV examiner sitting next to me – a really nasty one – and as though I will lose my license if there are too many points against me.
To be sure I don’t forget this little game, I have designated a certain speed bump I drive over leaving my home parking area as a reminder to be sure the DMV examiner is with me. It’s habit now. He’s always there so that on even routine trips I could almost drive blindfolded, I remain conscious of careful and defensive driving.
This kind of driving is not as carefree and fun as when was I was young, but it probably should not have been that way back then either. I hope, too, it is a way to help me be honest with myself in knowing if and when it is time to stop driving.
For the 40-odd years I lived in New York City, I didn’t need a car and drove only rented vehicles when I was on vacation or work trips away from home. A lot of that was highway driving, often in a convertible and I loved going 100 miles an hour down the road with Joe Cocker’s Cry Me a River blasting at top volume.
I don’t do that anymore but I like remembering how great it felt.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Monica Devine: Old Road