Saturday, 4 June 2011

My father ceased driving

some years ago. He made the decision himself. It was not, as it is for many people, made for him.
My father never never liked driving but he valued the independence and freedom of being able to drive. Nevertheless he felt it was time to stop - before he had an accident, before he injured someone else.
I have never driven a car. My visual perceptual capacities are not good enough for that. I do not miss something I have never had but I sometimes think the convenience of being able to leave the house, enter a car and drive off would be good - especially when it was much too hot or raining.
There are other people who continue to drive long after they should cease. They are simply not prepared to give up their convenience for the safety of others. One of my former lecturers lives locally. She is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. She knows that. Her doctor knows that.
Despite that he has just passed her as "fit to drive" again. She is not. I have watched her come into the shopping centre on several occasions. There have been minor dings to other cars. She forgets where the car is and, sometimes, that she has it there at all. Twice she has become lost on short journeys - the only journeys she now makes. But she is, according to the law, still able to drive.
Three years ago a man with no sight in one eye and impaired sight in the other was declared "fit to drive" despite having been at fault in an accident which killed someone. His occupation, unbelievably, was that of a courier van driver. The decision was eventually appealed but he was back on the roads for some time before his licence was revoked. He knew he could not see well enough but insisted it was his right to drive.
When we moved into this house our neighbours on one side were an elderly couple. They would drive to Queensland each winter while towing a caravan. The last time they did the trip the old man was 91. He had been driving long distances all his life. He had towed many a caravan as well. That year there was a problem with the caravan. That was it. He did not tow the van again. They did two more trips to Queensland by car but stayed in motels or cabins on the way. Then there was a problem with the car. That was the next decider. No more trips to Queensland. After that it was trips to the doctor, the chemist and the supermarket. At 96 he did what my father did, he handed in his licence. He was still, according to the doctor, "fit to drive" but he told me, "I've lost the edge. I know I am not." I rather suspect he should have given up even earlier but at least he made the decision.
I watched my father's cousin drive off yesterday. She is 81. She lives in an area ill-served by public transport. She does not drive at night if she can avoid it but she still wants to drive by day. I wonder how much longer she will go on driving. When will she make the responsible decision and cease?
There are far too many older people in this area who are still driving when they are not, despite the medical assessment, fit to drive. Their doctors simply do not have the courage to say "no" and bring on the resulting loss of independence. It is not a responsible decision on their part or on the part of the driver. The answer surely has to be a separate medical and driver testing facility.
It all makes me rather glad I have never had a licence. Would I want to give it up - or have someone tell me I should?


Anonymous said...

My Dad is still fit to drive according to the doctor, but he has hung up his keys ... his own decision, and one we would have had to made for him if he continued much longer. All too often the right to drive is only taken away by doctors after an accident.

Judy B

catdownunder said...

We are all grateful Dad also made the decision before there was an accident. I nearly got hit this morning - still feel a bit shaken because a very elderly driver turned into Belair Rd on a red arrow even though he had acknowledged I was there!

dandeliongirl said...

My granny made the decision to give up driving. It was hard, but I know she felt she just didn't want to risk it. Although, I think she knew several years before she officially gave up, because she refused to have us in the car for any length of journey 'just in case.'

catdownunder said...

I think grandparents also have a heightened sense of responsibility. They worry about taking their grandchildren anywhere.