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9:27 AM Wed, Dec. 12th

Older Than Dirt: About This Thing Called Driving

I recently saw on the news where yet another person drove their vehicle into the side of a building. This seems to be much more common than it used to be. I think I have figured out why. No one wants to give up driving! They would sooner give up their firstborn child, than their driver's license!

How exactly does one end up inside a building or a home, while they are behind the wheel? Well, it seems that some people have a hard time remembering which pedal is the gas, and which is the brake. You might think it is the drunk driver who is responsible for this kind of behavior. But alas, it is more often the elderly driver. Could it possibly be that maybe they are too old to be driving? "NOT SO" you say?

It is a fact that people are living longer these days. If they can get behind the wheel of their car, they will continue to drive until the end. I lived in a senior apartment building, and witnessed this first hand. I watched many of the residents as they walked with the help of walkers, canes and near blindness to get behind the steering wheel of their car. Some had portable oxygen tanks as well. I am not making any judgements here, but they did appear that just maybe they should have someone driving them!

There was an incident while I was living in Washington state where an elderly woman drove into the wall of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Yes indeed she did! And she was there to change her address on her license. She most certainly did not need to take a driving test! She had not had a traffic citation in so many years, they just sent her a new license in the mail. Thus the change of address.

I myself have never driven a car. Yes, it is true. I managed to survive for well over 60 years without benefit of a car. Worked for over 40 years, in three different states, and did quite well actually. There are in fact many advantages to not driving. I never had a car payment, never paid for car insurance, and was never asked to pick up, drop off or be anyone's designated driver. Over the years, I became quite good at figuring out those personalized license plates, and putting on my imaginary brake, long before the driver gets to the stop sign. I never locked my keys in the car, got carjacked, or sat at the roadside waiting for a tow truck.

Being a pedestrian does however have some challenges, I must admit. Even though I have never been run over, I have had quite a few close calls. Being in the crosswalk does not guarantee your safety. Even in the right, you can still easily become road kill! It isn't always about what color the light is when you cross a street. When it is between you and a car, you will likely lose.

Certain other things have helped me to survive as a pedestrian. I have developed keen peripheral vision - as well as being able to hear a car engine at least a block away, thus giving me every advantage possible. Walking, riding the bus and taking the trolley were second nature to me.

My mother was a good driver, I think. At least she said she was. She often mentioned how she had never gotten a traffic citation, and had been driving since she was in her early 20s. When the time came that Mama needed to stop driving, she was very sad. She could not imagine being at the mercy of others to get her from point A to point B. It was about that time when she once again asked me to think about learning to drive. Reluctantly, I agreed to try the Sears Driving School. I felt so guilty, not being able to help her.

I should probably mention that part of the reason I never drove was that I was terrified! I never knew why, so I explained it away as just an "unnatural fear of driving." Sometimes I would say, "I must have had a terrible accident in a former life!" Interestingly, I would always be driving in my dreams. I recall dreaming more than once that I was driving an 18-wheeler. As well as asking people to "let me drive." Oh yeah, in my dreams I could drive anything, anywhere!

The driving lessons - or lesson - turned out to be a wash. I recall the driving instructor with a horrified look for most of the hour. When I parked the car he had this to say, "Not everyone needs to drive. Maybe you should rethink whether or not it is something you want to do." And my mother was paying the guy!

My sister used to drive, but it has been at least 20 years. Now, she often mentions that she would like to "drive again." How do I feel about this possibility? Uneasy, to say the least. Even with her glasses on, she cannot tell the difference between a sleeping dog and a brick! And this is when she is only looking across the street. Not to mention that she has a tendency to forget where we are going when she is a passenger in someone else's car.

Although I will never truly understand the whole driving thing, I know it is a life style that is very difficult for most people to give up. I would think that once you have driven through the wall of someone's house you might be willing to at least think about hiding the keys! Seems that no matter how bad ones memory gets, they still remember where the car keys are.

If only they could remember which pedal is the brake, and which is the gas...