Driving to work this morning, I got stuck behind Grandpa, who deemed it suitable to slow down to nearly a stop at a green light. We were in the left turn lane, and we had one of those comforting green arrows — the ones that let you know you can safely turn without someone smashing into you. Grandpa almost caused an accident by stopping at that green light.
I’ve been behind elderly folks who come to a complete stop before making a right-hand turn into a parking lot. I’ve been behind plenty who either don’t use their turn signals at all or keep their turn signals on all the time. I’ve had the displeasure of having elderly people suddenly turn into traffic — obviously without looking beforehand — so that I had to slam on my breaks and pray not to rear-end them.
At least two mornings a week, I cringe when Willard Scott announces centennial birthdays on the “Today” show. He’s so cheerful when he says, “Edna Bates of Omaha is 102 today. Edna is active in her church, and she still drives herself to her church social group every day. Now isn’t that wonderful?” No, Willard, that is not wonderful. Chances are good that Edna is a hazard to other drivers every time she ventures out on the road. Chances are also good, Willard, that someone should have yanked Edna’s driver’s license 25 years ago.
Seventy percent of the times I’m behind someone who’s swerving, can’t maintain a constant speed, not using turn signals and generally displaying awful driving habits, it’s an idiot on a cell phone. The other 30 percent of the time, it’s an old person who shouldn’t even have a driver’s license. So often the elderly refuse to drive the speed limit — they drive 10 mph below the speed limit. It’s great that Granny Clampett is retired and doesn’t have to be anywhere at any specific time, but many of us need to get to work at a pace faster than 25 mph.
It’s time states start doing something about these geezers who can’t properly operate a vehicle. When drunk drivers are arrested and go to alcohol awareness classes, AA and court, they are made very aware that a vehicle is a dangerous weapon in the hands of a driver under the influence. Why, then, do we not consider a vehicle a dangerous weapon in the hands of any driver who cannot properly operate it, including the elderly?
The old folks have handicapped license plates and stickers — which indicates they have a condition that limits them physically — and they’re older than Methuselah, but by god, let ‘em drive! No. If they don’t have the sense to realize they are a hazard on the road, then the states need to decide for them.
Here’s how: Once someone reaches the age of retirement (currently age 62 in the United States), he or she should have to take a driving test every year to renew a driver’s license. If you’re old enough to receive the Social Security benefits for which I’m paying, then you’re old enough to prove you can still drive safely on the road with me.
And I don’t mean the written test; I mean the driving test, and more than once around a neighborhood block. They should have to drive on well-traveled streets and the interstate (to prove that they can drive faster than 35 mph), and they should have to drive in real traffic situations. (By the way, vision exams should be annual, too, as the eyesight deteriorates rapidly at this stage in life.)
Driving examiners could then determine whether to issue a full driver’s license, a restricted driver’s license (such as no driving after sundown), or no driver’s license. This is essentially the process for teens when they get their first driver’s license, the logic being that they have not yet developed keen driving skills. So, then, it makes sense to have the same process for people whose driving skills are no longer keen.
Just because you can turn on the ignition of a car or you’ve driven for 60 years doesn’t mean that you should have the privilege of driving until you’re 102. And driving is a privilege — one that is revoked when people mishandle their vehicles, and this should include the elderly.