My dad drove right up until the day he died at the age of 87. He was a menace to himself and everyone else on the road, but I couldn't get him to stop. Giving up his license meant that he'd have to depend on others to get around, and for my fiercely independent father, that was completely out of the question.
If he were driving somewhere he'd been to before, it was usually OK. But if he were going someplace new, or something unexpected happened along the way, things could get dicey. Whenever Dad became confused about the route, he'd slow down to ponder his next move. Even if we were on the freeway. "Dad! You have to speed up!" I'd shout, as cars whizzed around us, honking furiously. "You're only going 25 and the minimum speed is 50!"
Thankfully, nothing catastrophic ever happened. Just a lot of small snafus and close calls. For instance? I remember returning to the parking lot with him once after having lunch at the local deli. He got behind the wheel and we buckled up. He turned on the car and hit the gas. The car lurched forward, then stopped. Dad gunned the motor again. We didn't move. So he gunned it again.
"Dad!" I said. "You just drove over the concrete barrier that separates the lanes and now we're stuck on top of it. Gunning the motor isn't going to help."
He turned the motor back off. "That's not good," he conceded.
Not so good, but no big deal. We called a tow truck that pulled us off the barrier and we were able to drive home. We've all done something like that, right? The problem was that, in his 80s, my father was doing things like that fairly often.
When he died, a year later, he still had a valid driver's license. Unlike my friend Lori's dad who, after he totaled both his own car and a brand-new BMW, decided it was time to stop. A recent study concluded that people with hearing loss have more traffic accidents. As do people with vision problems. My father had both.
At 63, so do I. My reflexes aren't what they used to be either. So, I have to ask myself: Is it time for me to stop driving?
I got my first license at 17 and I've been driving ever since. I've never had an accident. But since turning 60, I've had a few close calls myself. Cars that seemed to come out of nowhere that I had to swerve to avoid hitting. Attempts to merge on the freeway that didn't exactly end in disaster, but were nothing to be proud of either.
There's no question that I'm honked at angrily a lot more often than I used to be. And if you're a pedestrian dressed in black and walking in the street on a dark night? You are a way too serious challenge to my night vision.
It's not as if I do a lot of driving. I'm really more of a cliché—the AARP-aged librarian with a 16-year-old car that only has 65,000 miles on it. I never drive if I can walk. I fill up the tank just once a month. I'm almost always on foot. But on a rainy day, I'm glad to have those wheels. Even for a walker like myself, sometimes it's fun to just get behind the wheel and go!
Still, I know I'm not as good a driver as I used to be. That perfect safety record is in danger. (Not to mention local pedestrians.)
Growing old means dealing with loss, both big and small. One day soon, I know that I'll have to put away my car keys and depend instead on the kindness of friends and family, and the reliability of Lyft.
But ... not just yet.