Driving (or Not) Part 1

“Perhaps the scariest road hazard is the one they don’t make a sign for.” The large bold type on the back cover of the August 10&17, 2009 New Yorker catches my eye: The silhouette of a girl, leaning forward, hands on the steering wheel, pony tail flying fills a drawing–a yellow and black, road-hazard-shaped sign, with a smaller sign just below saying TEENS. I save the back cover. I know I want to use it in my blog.

When we think about scary drivers, don’t we usually think “old drivers?” Mary’s Florida father (last post) won’t be driving for a while. That may be a relief. Admittedly many of us shudder when we think about older Florida/Arizona/California drivers. And some of us may wonder if drivers in their 80’s should be on the road, period. If teenagers are “perhaps the scariest road hazard,” what about older drivers?

Research shows that drivers age 55 and older are 25% of the driving population but have only 1% of the accidents. AARP tells us that older drivers usually drive fewer miles each year than younger drivers, so we must consider that. Also the number of accidents per mile rises sharply at age 75, which may be why some think older drivers are scary.

The New Yorker back cover informs us that “teens make up only 7% of America’s drivers but account for 12% of all accidents,” elaborating “IN 2007 TEENS KILLED MORE THAN 3,000 PEOPLE IN OTHER VEHICLES.” With the goal of supporting our parents’ self-esteem and not taking away independence prematurely, how do children use the preceding facts and information when assessing and discussing older parents’ driving?

If we have aging parents and teenagers and we see signs of dangerous driving, how do we respond to each age group? Yes, I know, have sufficient insurance. But of course more is involved. Aren’t we more likely to ground a teenager (whose whole life is ahead) but take the keys away permanently and change the life of an older person? Should one size fit all older drivers?

“Make Haste Slowly” is good advice, unless there’s a threat to life and limb. Taking time to get the information needed for informed decisions instead of knee-jerk reactions, is especially important when potentially life-changing consequences are at stake. As we gather information and review options, solutions for seemingly large problems are often clarified.

Example: Kim’s 76-year-old mother spends winters in the South with her adult son. Her mind is good and she’s a good driver; but she gave her children a scare. She took a wrong turn going home from a party, got in a lane that put her onto a freeway, and ended up in a neighboring state. Ultimately she got home three hours later. While her son immediately wanted to take away the keys, her far-away-living daughter suggested their mother have thorough physical, neurological, and vision examinations– taking away the keys only until the results were back. The results? She was fine. Then what? Creative thinking. Her adult children gifted her with a GPS programmed only for “home.” Three years later, a happy, confident, independent 79-year-old continues to drive without incident.

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