Monday, 20 December 2021

When should the elderly give up driving?

A friend who is about to turn 90 and who is still driving phoned me yesterday.

"Cat! I got a speeding ticket!"

I was shocked - and so was she. It is the first speeding ticket she has had - ever.

"Perhaps I should give up driving," she told me. 

We talked through what she had been doing when she received the fine. It turned out that she was doing 65kmh in a 60kmh zone because she was late for church. She still plays the organ there for the early service. 

There was no other traffic around in the semi-rural area she lives in and we are both well aware that many other drivers break the speed limit along that stretch of winding road with so many exit and entrance points. 

Her children think she should give up driving. They have been telling her this for some years now. In doing so of course they conveniently ignore the fact that she would not be able to go anywhere or do any of the things she loves to do. There is no public transport where she lives. None of them live close by and - I hate saying this - I doubt they would help even if they did. It isn't that sort of family. M... is closer to her neighbours in relationship terms than she is to her family.

"It would mean moving. I have been thinking about it. I know I should do it before it is too late -but I really don't want to do it unless I need to do it."

I feel for her. She has a lovely little house and a garden she designed herself - designed in such a way that she can manage it easily. Everything she has done over the last few years has been designed with continuing independence in mind. 

But it all depends on her continued ability to go on driving a car. I thought of this because there is a new road safety campaign aimed at older drivers. M... is still fit to drive. She has been driving since her feet were able to reach the pedals and she could see over the steering wheel - and I am not exaggerating here. M... grew up on a farm and her family needed all the help they could get. M...'s eyesight and hearing are still excellent. Her reaction times are better than those of many younger people. Like the Senior Cat she went off to get her driving skills tested by the police. They had no doubts about her ability. 

I suspect the policeman who pulled her over was having a bad day because many of them would have just warned her - and that would have been enough. 

But I see too many older people who are driving when they should not be driving. They are as much a danger on the roads as the young drivers who think they can do anything.  I have long advocated that older people should have regular medical assessments by a qualified person who is not their GP. I also believe they should undergo regular road tests to ensure they are still able to drive safely and well. Most of all I believe that once people reach a certain age - perhaps around 80 - they should be eligible for vouchers to use taxis at a greatly reduced rate. 

We should not be asking older people to go on driving simply so that they can go on doing their own shopping or get to appointments or see family and friends - or even play the organ at church. We should be making sure they can do those things without the need for a car of their own if they can no longer drive - or simply decide to give it up.  

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