In my last post I ended with a sarcastic question — after describing the difficult and time-consuming effort an old lady made to climb into her van and drive away from the grocery store. I asked “And she still drives. Isn’t it wonderful?” That was sarcasm, though at least one reader took me seriously and added her praise to the seeming compliment I was paying the old lady.

To be sure the older drivers show an indomitable spirit. And as an older driver myself I can easily understand why no one wants to give up the privilege and independence of driving one’s own car. However, there comes a point where the license should be denied older folks — that point where their presence on the roads poses a danger to others. Let me give you a specific example.

I have a very dear friend who has been blind from birth. His is indeed an indomitable spirit as he refuses to admit that there is anything he cannot do. With another friend he spent one supper re-shingling roofs in the town where they both live. He taught himself to use power tools and regularly repairs clocks. He is a marvel. I posted a blog about him several years ago. But I didn’t mention the following incident.

One day as he was walking home with his beloved dog from the Food Shelf where he volunteers, he stoped at a traffic light to wait for the red light to stop the crossing traffic. The light turned green for those on the street next to him and red for the cross-traffic. He stepped out to cross the road and an old man who had been sitting at the red light made a right turn into him destroying his hearing aids, tearing his minuscule, and hurting his dog — who died from internal injuries a few weeks later.

The man insisted to the police who soon arrived that he had a green light and was perfectly within his rights to turn his car onto the cross-road. Days later, when my friend went to the man’s house to assure him that he was not going to sue him (though he had grounds to do so) the man was still professing his innocence.

So I have little patience with those who think it wonderful that old folks drive a car and I will soon have a painful decision to make myself in this regard if I want to avoid being called a hypocrite.

The problem, of course, is to determine when to deny the older folks the license to drive. The old man in my example swears to this day that he had a perfect right to harm a blind pedestrian and his dog. I dare say he is not willing to give up his license. But should it not be taken away from him — especially after an accident such as this? I simply ask.


5 thoughts on “Sarcasm

  1. Hugh, these are very hard decisions on the children. My mother and mother-in-law both had Alzheimers. The family discussed taking the keys away for quite a long time as each progressed with the illness. My wife was the one who took my mother-in-laws keys. That did not go over well, but was needed. We were about to do the same with my mother, when the insurance company decided not to renew her after a few minor accidents in recent years. Mom, you can’t drive without insurance.

    Some can drive into their 90s as they are in good shape, but it is ongoing tough, but needed, conversation with the children and the parent. Keith

  2. Dr. Curtler,

    As a “senior citizen”, I agree with your comments.

    I, too, know there will come a time when I should no longer drive. Indeed, there were those who thought I should be ineligible to drive when I was a teenager– with good cause — so the idea is familiar to me.

    As a general principle, ANYONE who cannot or will not operate a motor vehicle safely should be denied the opportunity to do so. Driving is important, indeed, but it is a privilege, not a right. As with all privileges, it comes with a clear set of responsibilities.

    As a weak generalization, I would suggests that those younger drivers who operate vehicles unsafely, do so out of impulsiveness or inexperience. Older drivers who drive unsafely often do so for reasons of diminished physical or cognitive capacity.

    I recall reading research on automobile accidents where it was found that younger drivers tend to be distracted or confused by what is going on inside their vehicle, whereas older drivers tend to be distracted or confused by what is going on outside their vehicles. The more recent policies of graduated driver’s licensing for teenagers and more frequent driver’s license re-certifications for the elderly are good practices.

    Though the problems we face as we age are common, the specific points in our lives when we face them vary widely.

    I also consider this issue based upon personal experience. My father in law was able to drive at least five year longer than he should have, during which time he caused several serious accidents — likely due to a slow-growing brain tumor. He could never remember any of his accidents because he was blacking out while driving.

    The question is performance. The question one asks is whether the actual performance of one’s driving warrants warrants additional scrutiny or limitation, whatever age one happens to be.

    In the case of my family, my father-in-law should most certainly have had his driving privileges suspended far earlier than they were. But nobody wanted to take a license away from a “nice old guy. His insurance agent, the DMV, and even the State Patrol literally conspired to prevent him from losing his license.I find it hard to believe his case was unique.

    In the case of the example you have offered, I would be willing to wager that an examination of the driver’s record over the last year or two would reveal an increasingly obvious problem with driving performance. Just a hunch.

    Based upon the single accident he caused — his foolish protestations to the contrary — he should have had his license suspended for six months AND he should have been required to undergo a complete medical work-up, a driving test and a thorough eye examination. If a pattern of driving problems emerged, then he should have been stripped of his driving privileges entirely.

    I would expect roughly the same response to ANYONE of ANY age who caused such an accident.

    One person’s opinion…

    Regards, respects, and best wishes,

    Jerry Stark

      • My father in-law caused at least three major, life-threatening two-car accidents. His wife was responsible for at least two single-car accidents during the same time.

        Neither received a formal citation for any of these events.

        I wish it were unbelievable.

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