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Driving: A Right or a Privilege in Old Age?

By Ann Richardson February 20, 2024 Lifestyle

From time to time, there is an item in the news concerning old people and driving. One of my favourites concerned the late Duke of Edinburgh who had a car accident when he was in his late 90s. The car he was driving had ended up on its side – and it was reported that he was a bit “shaken up.” As one would be, even if you were much younger.

It started some conversations about old people and driving.

Old People and Cars

This is a serious issue – and one which affects a lot of us these days.

In my case, it was my father. I lived an ocean away from my parents and kept in touch by telephone but went to visit a couple of times a year or more. My dad would always meet me at the airport – driving, of course.

At some point, when he was in his mid-80s and his eyesight was failing, I began to worry for his safety. And that of other people, including myself.

He had always been an excellent driver and never travelled far. Mostly, he drove around his quiet suburban neighbourhood. He lived in a retirement community and often ferried other residents around the area for shopping or other outings.

Not surprisingly, he loved the sense of freedom that owning and driving a car brought.

So, understandably, it was a hard subject to broach.

“Don’t bother to meet me at the airport,” I said breezily a few days before I was due to travel. But he wasn’t fooled.

“You’re worried about my driving,” he replied, “but really, I’m just fine.” I asked him to get his friend, who was a lot younger, to drive him to the airport. Which he did.

Later, I raised the subject again. I stressed that I was worried because of his eyes: there might be a small child in front of the car. Without missing a beat but with a slight smile, he answered, “But there probably won’t be.”

He knew he was beaten and knew that he shouldn’t be driving. But he had loved his car for as long as I could remember – indeed, from before I was born. And now, in his old age, it gave him independence, and he liked the fact that it allowed him to be helpful to others.

Not driving to old people is not only about the car. It is also a symbol of decline and loss of faculties. It tells you that you are on the way down.

My father did decide to stop. Perhaps he was relieved, but he never indicated any such emotion. And at dinner, a number of his friends, who had already been told of my audacity, thanked me. They had tried hints, they had tried reason, but he wouldn’t listen. But they were pleased he listened to me.

A Global Problem

Soon after this happened, I spoke to a friend in Germany who’d had the same problem with her father. Another friend in the UK had it with her mother.

I realised that this was a problem all over the world – how to tell an otherwise independent parent that they should stop driving. You are embarrassed, they are defensive – and it is altogether difficult for everyone.

I wonder how many people as they grow into their 60s and beyond face this issue – with their very elderly parents or with a spouse or, indeed, with themselves.

We love our cars, we love the freedom driving brings, and it can be a real question whether our minor frailties have grown too large for us to cope.

You do need to keep an eye out for yourself and for those around you. You don’t want it to be you ­– or those you love – to be in the newspaper for this reason.

Flowers for Forgiveness

But let me tell you the end of my story. Immediately after that trip from the airport when my dad was not driving for the first time, I found a bowl of flowers on the table in my room.

This was not at all usual and I was taken aback. With them, he had left a note: “With love and forgiveness.” I asked him, of course, what he was forgiving me for. “For telling me not to drive,” he said.

We all do things in our own way. He was a constant surprise.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you think driving is a right or a privilege? Have you had to deal with an elderly relative who needed to stop driving? What techniques worked for you? Do you worry yet about your own driving? Please share your thoughts and concerns below.

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Shirley Jordan

There is no doubt in my mind, that regardless of age, driving is a privilege. Years ago, I worked as an Automobile Claims Adjuster for one one the largest Insurance Companies in the U.S., an eye opening experience to put it mildly! What shocked me the most, was the number of times folks repeated the exact same accident, time after time, after time. How insane is that? One would think that if one backed up and hit someone else’s vehicle, that would result in being more careful in the future. Well, in a perfect world that may be true, reality is the exact opposite.

Young men are often thought of as wreckless drivers, at least until ther hormones settle down. At the other end of the scale, the elderly are thought to be problematic. As someone who has been driving for more than fifty years, without a ticket, I feel confident in my driving abilities. Albeit, now in my seventies, I prefer, driving in daylight. I will drive at night if I have to, but not by choice. And, I am always very mindful to make use of Rest Areas, telling myself Schatzi, my wee doggie needs a ‘pit stop’, make that frequent ‘pit stops’ every two hours. I always take along coffee in a flask and a snack, even have the means to heat water to make a cup of soup, and make sure to stretch my legs and inhale a dose of fresh air, as I walk to and from the restroom, if for no other reason than to improve my alertness.

My Grandfather drove one of the very first cars in the UK, at one point he was a driver for ‘ upper crust’ ladies and gentlemen, and took them on tours of the country, visitng many stately homes. My father also started to drive well before Driver’s Licenses were introduced. If memory serves me correctly, I don’t believe he had one for a very long time. But, there came a tme when he was required to take a test, accompanied by his doctor, as required in the UK for folk of a certain age, at least then. Like me, never an accident, or parking tickets.

It seems we should all be aware of our physical and mental abilities, and short comings; without waiting to be prompted by family members or friends, telling us it it time to give up the keys to our ‘chariots of freedom’. Just like other aspects of our lives, adjustments are required along the way. Even an electric tricycle is an option most can afford, and a safer one at that. They provide good exercise, fresh air as well as a lot of fun. and often have a rack for groceries and the like. And, parks are a great place to chat and meet new people and their pets.

Though many Financial Planners are quick to urge retired folk to surrender their vehicles in favour of public transportation, many times that can cause inconvenience and difficulty being able to transport needed items, or something as simple as a change of scenery.

For now, at least, I am grateful my trusty Toyotas, a Camry LE, and a vintage Mini Cruiser RV, are still at my beck and call. Both bring a level of quality to my life, and are reliable and inexpensive to run. For that I am thankful! With plenty of TLC for both of them, and myself, I plan to be driving for many more years to come!

Claude Lataille

I cannot wait to give up driving. My experience is that few drivers follow rules or drive defensively. So many are clearly distracted by phones. Problem is that while I love my community and it is modestly walking friendly (less so for biking), necessary goods and services are 4 to 10 miles away. We have public transit and I keep telling myself I should learn how to use it. Uber, Lyft and even traditional cabs are pretty expensive. Topically, driving is a privilege but our nation has spent the last 80 years building, expanding and rebuilding our roadways and so our communities are conceived and then built to support the ease and freedom of driving a car.

Last edited 1 month ago by Claude Lataille
Maria

God help me! I dread the day that I will no longer be able to drive. I have always been very independent and the idea that I have to depend on anyone drives me absolutely crazy. Actually people depend on me to drive them around. Every day I pray that I will be able to drive till I die. I know this is wishful thinking but I will certainly pray that I will drive for many more years. When the time comes I will make the right decision but it won’t be easy.

Sharie

I’ve had vision issues since childhood, thus early on knew that someday I wouldn’t be safe behind the wheel. Better to ruthlessly face one’s inevitabilities, I say. Never understood how most people, it seems, don’t live like that. How do adults not think ahead?

Anyway, from my 30s, I arranged my life to accommodate what was surely coming. I consciously chose a home in a mostly walkable place and committed to learning to comfortably use public transportation. It was no heartache to voluntarily surrender my driver’s license when the time came at age 60. Actually it was a relief.

Driving is 100% a privilege.

Last edited 1 month ago by Sharie

The Author

Ann Richardson’s most popular book, The Granny Who Stands on Her Head, offers a series of reflections on growing older. Subscribe to her free Substack newsletter, where she writes fortnightly on any subject that captures her imagination. Ann lives in London, England with her husband of sixty years. Please visit her website for information on all her books: http://annrichardson.co.uk.

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