(What’s the age people quit driving? How do you get loved one to give up the keys?)
Mom was eating a personal-pan-pizza I bought her for lunch when she made her big announcement. She said she wasn’t going to drive much anymore—if at all.
I glanced across to my sister Lainey, who was eating lunch with us, but she kept her eyes focused on mom. I was surprised by mom’s announcement, but I shouldn’t have been. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that fatal crashes begin peaking at age 85, and mom was 86.
My mother has been a chauffeur and driver for as long as I’ve known her.
I remember being a little girl in the 1960’s and driving with mom in the front seat of the Chevy. Seat belts weren’t mandatory back then, so when mom made a sudden stop, she threw her arm protectively across my chest to keep me from bonking my head on the dashboard. In my lifetime, my mother has picked me up from junior high sleep-overs, high school choir practice, and the residence hall at college. When I was about 19 mom taught me how to drive, and her days of hauling her oldest daughter places, finally came to an end. But mom still ferried other people. Even as an older woman she’s been the driver for many of her friends. She’s taken Ellie and Dorothy to church, to doctor appointments, or just to get groceries.
“I know you had that little fender-bumper at the Albertson’s parking lot last week mom, but it doesn’t mean you have to quit…” my sister began.
Mom waved her hand at Lainey. “No-no, it’s time. I don’t want to hurt anyone on the road, much less get myself killed.”
I know some seniors struggle to leave their driving days behind, but mom isn’t one of them.
One octogenarian neighbor refused to give up his keys even though he sometimes fought to stay awake at the wheel. His wife decided she needed to drive with him, and tap his knee to keep him awake. Another good friend was shocked when she heard the state of Idaho had issued a driver’s license to her 93 year-old father-in-law—especially since he was losing both his hearing and sight. Then there was Fan. She was a great-great aunt and a shirttail relative. I sat in my car at a traffic light one day and watched Fan slowly make a left-hand turn from the right-hand lane. Adding insult to injury, Fan then drove down a one-way street, the wrong way. I honked along with everyone else, but Fan passed us all, head held high.
The American Auto Association said that almost 90 percent of seniors they surveyed thought giving up driving would be a big problem for them.
Sometimes concerned family members find creative ways to keep their loved ones off the road. Families have anonymously reported grandpa to the DMV, knowing this would force him to retake the driver’s test. Others have asked friends to “borrow” their grandmother’s car and “forget” to bring it home. Another oft-used ploy is to accidentally hide or lose the car keys of an older driver.
“You don’t have to worry about me,” mom tried to assure my sister and me. “I’m fine. I’ve got several people lined up to drive me where I need to go.”
“Mom,” I told her, “I’m really proud of you for doing this. I know it’s not easy. And yet, you decided to make this choice on your own.”
I really was pleased with mom for acting so responsibly. But at the same time, I knew giving up driving was a milestone, a marker that most people face only near the end of their life. And so, a little voice inside of me, the child of the mother I love, anxiously whispered, “Stay with me mom. It’s not time to go yet.”
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