Behind the Wheel
May 12, 2021 | View PDF
Many decades ago when I was 15, I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license. I figured a license would give me freedom; I could join the world of responsible drivers and transport myself hither and yon without the embarrassing need to have my parents or an older sibling chauffer me from place to place. The thought of driving filled me with glee.
Well, after nearly six decades of driving, I am cured of that particular itch. In the last 50+ years, not only have I driven thousands of miles to get to and from a workplace, but I’ve also driven cross country multiple times, I’ve maneuvered my way through blizzards, endured hours of hot car seats to reach various destinations, spent enormous sums of money on purchasing and maintaining vehicles, and have even spent a night in my conveyance due to snowstorms and drifted roads. I always carried survival gear, so the unplanned overnight stop was an inconvenience, not a disaster. However, enough is enough. A lifetime of driving has taught me that when the time comes to turn in the keys, I will do so willingly.
Older drivers are generally more cautious, they wear their seat belts, and they do not tend to drive while impaired. On the other hand, many seniors take daily medications, which may or may not affect their ability to drive. Many older people also drive too slow because they are overly cautious, which ends up becoming a hazard rather than a safety measure.
I’ve decided that there are four basic types of older drivers on the road today. Those that are still quite capable, those that imagine they can still drive but who are actually a menace to themselves and every other driver who shares the roadway with them, and those who know they can no longer safely handle a vehicle but continue to drive for various reasons. The fourth type of driver reaches the point where they understand it is time to burn the driver’s license, sell the vehicle, take the bus instead, and then follow through and do so.
I am the first type of driver, but I also know when the time comes, I will willingly give up the keys. I know I will recognize when I need to step away from the driver’s seat, as I continually assess myself and have already stopped certain driving activities such as negotiating the roadways at night. I detest driving and drive as little as possible. I walk or bike everywhere possible and only take a vehicle when I need to get groceries, make the day long drive out to visit my sister once a year, or perform some other task that cannot be done in Virginia City. For the most part, my vehicle sits in the driveway. I’ve got a 2004 pickup with only 100,000 miles on it, which illustrates my point.
If someone else offers to drive, I accept quite happily.
My father was the second type of driver. He was a hazard on the road but he couldn’t or wouldn’t realize and accept that fact. My sister and I were visiting my parents at the time and I drove my father and my sister to town for some small errand. My father became incensed when I drove through the parking lot to reach the road home, as he figured it would be a much easier and shorter route to drive across someone’s lawn, snake down a footpath, hop over a curb, and rejoin the main road that way. He was still annoyed with me by the time we arrived back at his house.
This is the same man who the year earlier had taken us on a tour through the old timer’s village where he and my mother had recently moved. He was driving, and he tore down the streets at 60+ mph. When my sister and I pointed out to him that the speed limit was 35 mph, he sniffed disdainfully and said, ‘Those rules are for old people.’
He was 86 years old at the time.
My mother took away his set of keys shortly after that incident.
My mother was the third type of driver. She knew she had reached the point where she no longer felt safe steering a vehicle, but she continued to drive to hair appointments, for groceries, and to get my father out and about. After my parents moved to the elder village, it took quite a bit of persuading to convince my mother that she no longer needed her car. The village had transportation available for residents, so she really did not have to drive anywhere at all.
She finally did agree to give up the keys, and when she did, she thanked us, as she truly did not want to drive any longer.
At this point in my life, I am still young enough that neither I nor my friends or siblings have quit driving. I know I will make that choice happily when the time comes. I’m already planning how I will accomplish tasks such as grocery shopping when my turn comes to sell my vehicles. The thought of using my own two feet, or my bike, or taking advantage of the county transportation bus to get places does not distress me at all.
After all, isn’t it relaxing to take the bus and leave the driving to someone else?