Prince Philip’s car accident yesterday reminded me of something which happened a few years’ ago to a family friend. Like the prince, Bob was in his nineties and still driving. He’d go to the GP for a check-up, and the doctor would ask how he was. Bob would reply that he was fine, and the GP would never mention giving up driving.
However, Bob (unlike the prince I might add) was suffering with early dementia which progressed very quickly. He still carried on driving, but was increasingly mixing up the gears and pedals, pressing the accelerator instead of the clutch or the brake. This caused a knackered gearbox and the car to acquire many scratches and dents as he tried to manoeuvre it out of the garage, but fortunately he never managed to injure either himself or anybody else.
Things came to a head when Bob would drive along and forget where he was or what he should do next. His wife then had to sit in the passenger seat on every journey, telling him when to apply the brake or the clutch (she’d say the “left pedal” or the “middle pedal”) or whether to turn right or left (she didn’t drive, but was mentally sharp and the pair of them lived in a rural area). Bob was adamant he was fine, but his children could see he was losing the plot. It came to the inevitable sad day when Bob’s son took the car keys away from his father and sold the car. Bob eventually was moved into a care home, where he died soon after.
So when should we give up driving? First of all we have to accept that we are too old to drive and that our reactions are too slow to be safe. Maybe even our eyesight is not as good as it was (Prince Philip said he was blinded by the low winter sun). However, there’s a good indicator as to when to give up – our speed becomes slower and slower until eventually we are pootling along at about 18 miles an hour, with our necks craning to see over the steering wheel. You see them every day; people in their eighties or nineties that really, really should not be on the road but are too stubborn to admit they are past it.
These people are a danger to themselves and to others. GPs should be more thorough with their check-ups instead of taking the patient’s word for it that they are fine to drive. Bob also had glaucoma and tunnel vision, so why the hell did somebody in authority not ban him from driving? The prince was out driving again the day after the accident in a brand new Range Rover, and was cautioned by the police for not wearing a seatbelt. Had he gone through a stringent test of his driving skills in the meantime? Hmm…
Like many things in life, acceptance is the key. Nobody wants to give up driving and lose some of their independence, but at the end of the day the body wins out yet again. These wonderful bodies of ours start to fail as we age, and have many ways of telling us that we are too bloody old to drive!