Does it ever cross your mind while you are out driving and thinking — likely doing more thinking than driving — that some day you will have to stop driving?
Having “the talk” with loved ones when one is too old drive is the big taboo of discussions nowadays, or at least that is how it seems to me. I hear more people contemplating their deaths and what to do with their remains than considering when they’ll no longer be behind the wheel. Losing the ability to drive — physically or legally — represents cessation of mobility, independence and even the sense of self for many.
I bring this up because I was in a traffic accident today in which the car I was driving was struck by a large SUV driven by a woman who is or is very close to 90 years old. Oh I’m okay. Thanks for asking. I was aching a bit and may be a bit stove up in the morning. I truly don’t want to sound self-important but I believe my evasive action at the wheel kept things from being much more serious than they were.
This morning I was driving my “company” car up to a busy intersection adjacent to Interstate 10. I was on the freeway service road as it was necessary to enter I-10 and head back home. I pulled up to the cross street, which is actually two state highways into one, and stopped at the red light. The three lanes were thus: 1) The inside lane was for left turns only. 2) The middle lane was for turning left or going forward. 3) The outside lane was for going forward only. Well, one might make a right turn after stopping, but that’s beside the point.
I was in the middle lane waiting to go forward. Colin Cowherd’s sport show was on the radio. I was thinking about work things. As the light turned green, life became a blur as well as a split-second adrenalin rush. I felt the wallop of colliding metal, and it seemed I was a mass of hands wheeling that Chevy anywhere it needed to go as long as it wasn’t into the path of another car. Then the big SUV was headed off into the distance as were all the other cars. No one stopped as I pulled into the nearby convenience store parking lot. Not a soul inquired as to how I was doing. Such Good Samaritans.
With hands shaking even more than they normally do, I called 9-1-1. The operator seemed irritated I had called and told me that where I was located was the city’s jurisdiction, not the county’s. “Well, excuuuuuse me!,” I wished I had said. But I just said “Whatever.”
Having a fender-bender in the company car is not a simple incident when you work for the folks I do. I had to pull out forms and call my supervisor and prepare for the barrage of questions to which I didn’t yet know the answers.
Then, perhaps the most galling portion of the entire saga unfolded. Along came the runaway SUV, driven by a sweet, little old almost 90-something lady and her self-righteous almost equally aged passenger. Both elderly ladies began barraging me with their insistence that I was at fault. They were in a turning lane and I went straight, said the indignant old ladies.
“No, wait,” I said. I knew that couldn’t be right. But they had a witness, they said. Even showed me a name written down. Danged old women had me believing for a moment that maybe I was wrong, that I had caused the accident. Then the passenger began eying my license plate. Seems to be a lot of that going on lately. She asked who I worked for and I told her, in broad terms until she asked specifics. I got about as specific as I could without being specific.
Finally, thank Heavens, the nice policeman came. I had initially reported that the driver of the other vehicle left the scene, which can be a serious problem in some instances. I told the officer the vehicle that struck me had indeed returned. The two old ladies then began on their stories of how the driver was making a left turn from the outside lane when I drove straight and struck her SUV, which remarkably didn’t leave any visible damage on the big vehicle. My company car has a right rear passenger door that is noticeably crumpled. It also will not open. Upon telling their side of the story I could see a glint of confusion and humor in the police officer’s eyes. The officer promptly told the ladies that the driver of the vehicle in which they were riding was in the wrong.
As the officer continued to gather information the driver was sweet and told how she had drove on a country road for years that is now filling up with all manner of trailer-trash traffic. But her friend did remark to me that: “You really should have seen us turning.”
The officer gave the driver of the other car no ticket although he did assign the fault to her. The officer told me that he didn’t want to give her a ticket because he “hated to see her lose her license.” I would likewise hate to see her license yanked. But, that could have been a serious accident and I am uncertain as to the woman’s judgment after apparently believing that she could turn left across traffic from clear across the highway. I have no idea whether the other driver’s insurance company will be so forgiving. It could be that family members might need to have that “talk” with their mother, grandmother, auntie and so forth.
Consider the following statistics from the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration, nothing alarming, nothing yet, but certainly something to catch one’s eyes:
“In 2008, 13 percent of the total U.S. resident population (34 million) were people age 65 and older. There were 31 million older licensed drivers in 2007 — an 19-percent increase from 1997. In contrast, the total number of licensed drivers increased by only 13 percent from 1997 to 2007. Older drivers made up 15 percent of all licensed drivers in 2007, compared with 14 percent in 1997.
“In 2008, 183,000 older individuals were injured in traffic crashes, accounting for 8 percent of all the people injured in traffic crashes during the year. These older individuals made up 15 percent of all traffic fatalities, 14 percent of all vehicle occupant fatalities, and 18 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.”
I am still here and have not yet had to seek medical care from today’s fender-bender. I have neck and back pain plus a painful wrist from my battle with power steering. But hopefully I will be okey-dokey and my ailments will be limited to an ache-plus body, that being a few more aches than is normal these days. And all in all, the totality of what happened has made me think about that time which could come that I would have to give up my keys to the highway. It is not a pleasant thought although neither is the thought of what cost an age-impaired judgment might bring.