Just Shelley Legal, Laws, and Regs

Hanging up the keys

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

A few weeks back, an 84 year old woman drove her car through a grade school lunchroom, killing an 8 year old. They haven’t come out with the specifics of what happened, but it was broad daylight, good weather, and the school was a distance off the road.

This led to more discussion about when people should hang up their keys. After this weekend, I’m even more acutely aware of this as an issue.

Yesterday, driving through a parking lot, a women coming in from a side road just pulled out in front of me, without looking, forcing me to slam on my brakes. I was lucky, and I didn’t hit her. Today another young woman wasn’t as lucky.

I had to go to the Radio Shack, at the mall near my house. The mall’s parking lot is typical for the area: a line of shops with a road in front and parking on the other side of the road. The only cross walks were in front of the all-you-can eat buffet and the department store.

I was standing by the side of the road, waiting for a break in the traffic to cross, when one person stopped for me to my left, and a woman to my right slowed down to stop. She stopped right in front of a lane leading into the road, in the lane closest to the shops. As I started across, I noticed another woman pulling out in the lane, right at the woman who was stopped. I yelled and waved my arms; the lady who was stopped was pretty limited on what she could do with a pedestrian, me, in the road and a car behind her.

We both watched as this woman just drove into the side of her car. Bright sunshine, 100% visibility, the bloody car is right in front of her. She wasn’t looking to the front, though. Nor did she look to the left, either. She was looking to the right, and didn’t once look anywhere else. In fact, if the car to the left hadn’t stopped for me, it probably would have hit her, or she would have hit it.

I checked to make sure the woman who was hit was OK, and she was fine, suffering only a combination of being rattled and astonished. I then went over to the older woman to see if she was fine, and she said, “Oh, I’ll pay for the damage. Just have her contact me,” and then started to pull away.

I put my hand on her car, and told her, “Ma’am, you can’t go. You have to exchange insurance cards.” As she was blocking the lane, I mentioned she needed to pull over out of the way. Again, she started pulling forward without even looking, this time right at an SUV. I stopped her, and signaled the other horrified driver to go. Didn’t have to signal that driver more than once–she was out of there.

I got the older woman parked finally, and she got out. Sweetest thing you’ve ever seen. The younger woman was, also — more concerned that the other wasn’t hurt. Though this was a parking lot accident, she called the police and though they can’t cite anyone in a parking lot accident, I think she wanted the police to check out the older woman.

Bluntly, this woman did not belong behind the wheels of a car. She was easily confused, extremely malleable, and did not once properly check before making any moves. Not even completely aware of what she needed to do after an accident.

Hanging up the keys. For many, it means losing independence. For this older woman, it probably means not meeting her friends at that all-you-can-eat buffet, a favorite place for the seniors. For others, it means not taking off for the trails, not shopping, having to depend on others, trying to depend on public transportation, which is still quite poor in most communities.

I only just started driving in my 40’s, and I love to drive. I shudder at the thought of the time when I’ll have to give up my wheels. I hope I make that decision before it’s too late.

My Dad gave up driving at about 75, because he had arthritis in his back and neck, and it was too hard for him to look around for cars when he wanted to change lanes. It was tough for him to quite, because he was then dependent on family or whatever public transportation existed. Luckily, in Seattle, and then later in Bloomington, he did have access to public transportation.

One of the reasons he made this decision is because, long ago when he was a Washington state Patrolman, he was racing about 70 MPH to an accident scene, lights and sirens on, when a elderly man pulled right out in front of him. The man and his wife were killed, and Dad was in the hospital for three months.

Statistically, the most dangerous drivers are under 24, but the people who get involved in more accidents in ratio to how much they drive, are over 70. The AARP recognizes this and provides special driving classes for folks over 65.

In our state, once you hit 70, you have to get your license renewed every three years, rather than six. In Illinois, there are more restrictions, including driving tests every two years after you hit 80.

When is the time to quit? There are people capable of driving into their 90’s, but others suffering vision or other problems who should quit in their 50’s, or sooner. We’d like to leave this up to the individual, but as this woman today demonstrated, as the woman who killed the child, or the man who drove out in front of my father, people don’t always make the right decisions.

The day when I have to hang up my keys is far off, I hope. May I have enough wisdom to know when it’s time. I can’t help thinking, though, that the day I can’t drive anymore will be the beginning of the end for me.

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