Letters: A Word to the Older Driver

LETTERS: A word to the Older Driver

February 06,2014

One day in the pleasant Dorset town in which I live there drove an old man into my local supermarket car park via its exit lane. His car was already covered in dents and scratches.

Although elderly myself, from past professional reflex I gently chided him over his continuing to drive.

I received the magisterial and (to him) unanswerable reply: “I’ve been driving since 1950, you young ****!” Yes, and it showed.

Before I retired I worked as a specialist community psychiatric nurse for the elderly. In close co-operation with other authorities, including GPs, I was often instrumental in terminating an old person’s driving – a hateful task to have to do.

It could mean the loss of freedom; social stimulation and the means fully to care for a completely dependent partner. It can cause real bereavement. It’s a kind of moral amputation.

But no matter how relatively safe other older drivers still appear to be, there is the growing national problem of “incidents” – causing anything from mild infuriation to all-out road rage, to actual collisions.

Sensitive older drivers make every effort to avoid problems. They drive on local roads with which they are familiar and drastically cut down on their mileage.

This is the only reason older drivers appear safer on statistics. Ask any insurance company.

The crux is this; all we older people are affected increasingly with age by mild to moderate Cognitive Deficit. That just means slower reaction times and is often more than compensated for by increased life experience and (sometimes) wisdom.

It doesn’t necessarily lead into real dementia in the majority of cases.

But when driving it’s all somewhat analagous to the effects of one and a half to two units of alcohol. Braking reflexes are slower, inhibitions less restrained and overall concentration blunted and intermittent rather than continuous. And even at an impact speed after braking of “only” 25mph, half a ton of motor car can cause a lot of harm to other human beings. Ouch!

Now here, any older driver will say to themselves, “Yes, of course he’s right, but it doesn’t apply in my own particular case. One day it will, but not yet.” Sounds a bit like St Augustine.

The psychological process here is called Denial. Even decent, honest human beings can in all sincerity deceive themselves and others if what they see as their vital interests are threatened.

Take the compulsory renewal of a driving licence on one’s 70th birthday. There is a long list on the form of medical issues which require only a simple “yes” or “no” replay. Any problematic answer to the DVLC and renewal will be delayed for months following investigation, or even refused.

So guess what? Mysteriously, millions of older drivers confirm there is no medical problem whatever which could preclude that precious green document being renewed. And seriously, who will judge or blame those who can be simply (I hate to use the word) lying? Who will cast the first stone? We are all of us flawed.

What can be done, then? Obviously the ideal solution would be an annual or even three-yearly driving test. But the government who imposed such legislation on such a powerful voting base would commit political suicide. So it will never come about.

The answer then? We older drivers must monitor ourselves much more ruthlessly for our own sake or the sake of our nearest and dearest, or other people’s nearest and dearest. Have the bravery to do the unthinkable. Or do what I’m going to do. Set yourself a date for surrendering that licence.

give up driving on that date and return your licence. But in my case it’s going to be so hard, believe me. I’m already having anticipatory bereavement just thinking about it.

No, it’s not altruism, it’s self-interest. I’ve tested providence hugely over decades and hundreds of thousands of miles. So far so good.

We older drivers have got to be so grateful we’ve reached this point if we’ve had no major driving calamity.

Call in your chipos whilde you’re still ahead.

Hopefully I can still walk down to the pub.

Source: Blackmore Vale Magazine

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