Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why your Nana shouldn't be behind the wheel.

We lived next door to a lady named Kay.  She was in her 80s.  One of those Europeans who, although she'd been in Canada for 50 years, still had her accent - just like my own Granny.  Kay was effusive in welcoming us to the neighbourhood.  We had to learn to lock our door during the day because she'd would occasionally walk in with a coffee cake when I'd be trying to put Rissa down for a nap.

One day, Kay backed out of her driveway in her massive Crown Victoria - she basically did a reverse U-Turn as she left her driveway, rolling over the curb onto our yard, hitting the For Sale sign on our lawn, then running into our tree.  She then put the car into drive and left.  Shortly after that, she asked David to help her get into the garage.  The door to her garage was locked, you see.

"Where are your keys?" David asked.  "Did you lock them in the garage?"

"No, no, they are here," she said, handing them to him.  "But there isn't a place to put the key."

There were no keys for the door.   It was one of those doors where you have to push the handle in and turn it to lock and then do the opposite to unlock it.  Problem was, Kay didn't remember how it worked.

"It won't work!"  She tried turning the handle this way and that.  "You see?!?"

"Why do you need to get into the garage Kay?" David asked.

"I need to drive to the grocery store."

"How about I drive you to the grocery store?" David suggested.  David palmed her car keys, sneaking them into his pocket.  After driving her to the grocery store, he called her doctor.

"Thank God," said the receptionist.  "We were hoping that someone would stop her from driving."

Apparently everyone in the doctor's office knew that she wasn't safe to drive, but no one thought to do anything about it.  Makes sense I guess.  It should really be left to her neighbour to suffer the brunt of her outrage when said neighbour wouldn't return her car keys to her.  We were in suburbia - not having a car for her was like having an arm cut off.  David, however, wasn't willing to pass that sentence on to unsuspecting pedestrians.

One friend's grandfather, who had terrible cataracts, still continued to drive - using his wife in the passenger seat as his navigator.  Driving behind a tractor one day, he pulled out to pass and narrowly missed being hit by an oncoming car.  He hadn't seen it.  Nor had his wife in the passenger seat.  You see, her view had been blocked by the tractor.

My own grandfather suffered from Alzheimer's, most days he couldn't recognize me, but my Gran took him out every day driving, "so he wouldn't forget how."

I stopped by the pharmacy the other day.  The parking lot to this particular shopping area is crap.  There's a gas station that empties into a driving lane as well as an entrance off the major road.  There was an older lady pulling away from the gas station.  She was focused on me, as I approached the entrance to the parking lot.  She didn't see the car coming on her right towards the exit.  The guy in the other car honked his horn in warning - several times. She kept driving.  She looked accusingly at me as the guy leaned on his horn, now desperate to get her attention.  If she were younger, I have a sneaking suspicion that she'd have flipped me the bird for honking at her.

I pulled up to the store.   Two of the plate glass windows at the front had been decimated.  Construction fencing had been erected around the damaged area.  I figured some local hooligans had maybe gotten bored and did the damage.  I went in to mail my packages at the Canada Post Counter - people were still sweeping up.  There were a couple of official looking guys in suits who were on their I-Phones "We need this covered Stan.  Don't tell me tomorrow, I need it today!"  As I got to the postal counter, packages in hand, I asked the gal manning the cash how her day was.

"Well, I'm better now," she said.

"That's good to hear."  I rummaged for my wallet, preparing to pay.

"It's not every day that someone decides to make their own drive-thru in a store where there isn't a drive-thru."


"A lady drove right through the window."

So, not hooligans then.  An older lady in her SUV was the culprit.  Panicked when she initially pulled onto the curb, she stepped on the gas, was propelled forward and then smashed through the windows.  No one was in front of those particular windows at the time, a fact which I'm sure will cheer her right up.

I'm not saying that ALL elderly people shouldn't be driving.  There are plenty out there who are exemplary drivers. What I'm saying is that there are some Grans, Opas, Mimaws, Dedas, Grampies and Nonnas out there, who, right now?  When they are behind the wheel?  Shouldn't be.  They're like James freaking Bond!  They have been awarded '00' status.

Sure, in Ontario, after the age of 80, you have to take a written test, and have your eyes tested, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you have to pass a practical driving test.  A study from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests  that drivers over the age of 85 have quadruple the fatal car accidents of male teenaged drivers.  Some senior driving advocates, say that this statistic is unrealistic because seniors are more frail than other drivers and do not recover from car accidents in the same way that younger victims do.

29% of the Canadian population are baby boomers.  My Dad is 69 and my Mom is 68 years old.  They, like a lot of parents, retired to their dream home.  They live 5 km from their nearest town and are dependent upon their vehicle for shopping, socializing and medical appointments.  They speak of down-sizing, not for driving reasons, but due to property maintenance.  My Mom's already scoped out the senior condos that are a walkable distance to the golf course.  She's forward thinking. 

David's Dad lives in a similar location, far removed from transit.   Thankfully, David's Mom is in a city centre that has a transit system, and they're located about a 25 minute walk from the closest mall and grocery store.  Within the last few years, all three sets of parents have altered their driving habits.  They won't drive in snowy weather and dislike driving at night.

No one likes having the difficult conversations.  "Hey Mom, what do you think about us taking away all your independence?"   But you know what?  We need to start talking about this stuff now, before there is a problem. The local pharmacy incident is going to be my conversation starter.  My parents are very practical, but I know that it'd be an incredible blow to my Dad if he could no longer drive.  This is one bullet that I don't want to bite, but I'm going to have to.  Maybe I'll never notice anything with their driving.  Maybe they'll never become those seniors who can't make a left turn.  I hope to God that's the case.  I hope to God that they give my parents a citation for perfect driving when they're in their 90s.  But if that not the case?  I have to have the balls to call them on it.

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