One spring day in 2011 dad and I sat down to have “the talk” about his driving. Throughout his life he had been a very careful driver and had been in no traffic accidents. At one time, dad even received a safe driving award from his employer, the Nebraska Department of Roads.
Due to the fact that his eyesight was becoming very poor, his reflexes were slowing, and Parkinson’s Disease was becoming more pronounced, we both had to make the decision for him to no longer drive. He confided that he no longer drove to his morning coffee visits because he had to follow another car in order to travel down the street.
We both agreed that he would not renew his driver’s license when it became due the following month. It was also time to sell his car. The most difficult thing was parting with his Buick. Although dad had owned several makes of cars, his default brand was Buick. So selling his last one signified that he had arrived at a milestone.
On the day before his license expired, we cleaned out the old Buick Park Avenue. He backed it out of the garage for the last time. Then I took a few snapshots for posterity. The buyer arrived; chatted with dad; then drove the Buick away. All dad could say was, “Print a picture for me.”
Driving was not only a pleasure for dad, it was an integral part of who he was. He enjoyed performing the mechanical maintenance and upkeep of his vehicles. More to the point, he loved to travel upon the highways that he had designed and supervised during their construction. In a very concrete way, highway transportation was dad’s life.
I reflected on the fact that all of us, including myself, are growing older each day. Someday, someone or oneself will decide that we must no longer drive. Meantime, most of us will experience cognitive, sensory, and physical changes that will affect the way we operate a vehicle.
We will certainly wish to retain our independence. If that includes the ability to drive, there are many ways in which we will be able to do that. Presently, drivers can choose an evaluation to determine if they need technological assistance. Adaptations and specialized equipment are available to help drivers confidently and safely continue to drive. This is especially important for the many people who do not have access to regular public transit or alternative forms of transportation.
New vehicles already come equipped with better safety technology that will also help us whether we’re young or old. Some of these features include better headlights, crash protection, and lane departure systems. We can be sure to keep tabs on the health of older loved ones, and our own so we can remain healthier longer and maintain our vision and reflexes. If and until self-driving cars become perfected and widely useable, safe driving will be up to us.
This is Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. Now is the time to carefully consider, as a family, how and if driving is still an intelligent choice. Of course, to give up the privilege of driving will curtail personal independence.
Whether it is an older family member or oneself, there will be strong emotional reactions. The driver must place the safety of other drivers, along with ones own safety as prime concerns.
If the decision is made to continue driving, this is the time to brush up and improve driving skills. There are online and live classroom courses that are specifically designed for mature drivers. These courses and the instructors can help address the specific aging related changes. This information will help determine how long a driver will be able to compensate for those physical and cognitive changes.
Now is the time to be proactive. Each of us and our loved ones need to evaluate our driving ability and skills. Is it time to participate in a driver’s improvement course? Or, is it time to accept that it’s time to hang up the keys?
Older Driver Safety Awareness Week is the time to plan ahead for everyone’s transportation abilities and needs.