Every so often we read reports in the papers of motorists driving the wrong way on dual carriageways or motorways, usually elderly drivers who had become confused or simply hadn't noticed what they were doing wrong. These reports are frequently followed by letters to the editor suggesting all sorts of things: compulsory re-testing at various ages, a complete ban on driving over a given age, etc etc. Two suggestions that stick in my mind especially are that anybody who tales longer than 30 seconds to get out of a car should no longer drive, and that family and friends should tell a person when they think the time has come for him (or her) to give up driving.
Driving licenses in this country expire automatically at the age of 70, at which point the driver has to complete a form - basically a self-assessment - to confirm that he is capable of driving safely. The license is then re-issued for a period of three years, when the process is repeated. People suffering from any of a list of complaints and health conditions are required to declare the same when re-applying for a license and, in some cases, the DVLA (licensing authority) will contact the driver's doctor to obtain confirmation that it is safe to re-issue the license.
The problem is that these things are never black or white; there are always shades of grey. And the opinions expressed are always subjective; they can be nothing else. Take the case of our household.
It is now about 18 months since we sold the Old Bat's car. She hadn't driven it for at least six months because although she could control the car perfectly well, she was unable to get to or from the car without assistance; I always had to be with her. Since her car was kept in the garage, with mine in front, we always used my car. But, in any case, she didn't like to drive my car in traffic as it was considerably larger than hers. She was quite happy to drive my car along the almost deserted French motorways, which did give me a break when going to our holiday cottage. However, I was becoming more and more concerned that she was not noticing road signs. On at least three occasions she drove past the turn-off we wanted and several times I had to point out reductions in speed limits an so on.
When the time came to renew her license, I fully anticipated problems. I telephoned the DVLA as her condition is not one on the list that have to be declared. They checked and confirmed that she would need to do so; they also wanted to contact her doctor. It was quite a surprise to me that she received a new license.
But it is now getting on for a year since she last drove. There has been no opportunity for her to drive my "new" car, something she would want to do before taking to the motorways so on our last few trips I have done all the driving. I'm rather hoping that it will stay that way. I dread having to tell her that I think she is no longer capable of driving safely. As it is, there are many things I watch her struggle with around the home as a result of her slowly worsening condition, but I bite my tongue and only occasionally offer to do what for me would be simple. The time will come when she decides for herself that she is not able to do things.