I am the adult child of elderly parents. My mother, who I still fondly refer to as “Old Yeller” used to drive around like a total maniac. Making certain that each one of us kids were seat belted, of course, so they could identify our remains in a crash. She’d drive with one arm on the wheel, while the other arm was just swinging away at us in the back seat of the car. We were terrible kids, all four of us girls. My dad, the poor guy, was totally outnumbered. So he spent most of his time at the local pub. While all of the other kids in the neighborhood were being threatened by their moms “When your father gets home, you’re in really big trouble,” my mother would threaten us in her own wayIF your father EVER comes home, you’re in really big trouble.” That’s how she became known as Old Yeller. She was the disciplinarian.
Now, I drive my parents around. And they don’t complain (much). They don’t prefer to drive much, either due to their slower reflexes, nervousness and sheer terror of being flipped off by a teenager. So now, I have to make sure they’re seat belted and don’t have to stop to use the potty (that’s kind of true).
I recently spent a week in Florida, where they winter. Now, if you’ve never been to Florida, here’s what you can expect to see (besides Mickey Mouse), a whole lot of trailer parks, retirement communities, medical complexes and funeral homes. In fact, they have that cemetery in Orlando “Trailer Park In The Sky.” Okay, I just made that last part up, but I’m not trying to be ugly. And this much is true, my mother calls Florida “Heaven’s Waiting Room.” And now I see why. I had always heard that, because most Floridians have relocated there from other states in order to retire (65+ and I put the emphasis on the plus), it’s a scarry place to drive. And you can just forget about riding a motorcycle there.
Did you know that the first speeding ticket was issued in the U.S. on 5/20/1899. And I think the man it was issued lives two doors down from my parents. I didn’t know that it was possible for someone to live 112 years, but now I do. That’s probably why there’s a sign at the entrance to their gated community that says “Welcome to Autumn Leaves…Enter At Your Own Risk.” There’s not one erect mailbox on their street. By the way, this is the only time you will see anyone use the word erect in a story about elderly people.
Young, inexperienced drivers do get a bad rap, but statistics show they pale in comparison to accidents caused by elderly drivers. Slow reflexes, confusion, lack of coordination, hitting the gas instead of hitting the brake…these are all common issues. Or, just being plain old crabby. My father feels that anyone driving slower than him is an idiot and anyone going faster than him is a maniac. Some people complain that the elderly drive too slowly. While some believe that the elderly don’t drive badly, they’re just the only ones with time to actually do the speed limit. My sister says that anyone who drives under the speed limit should be “humanely euthanized.” I suppose she’s adopted that phrase after having worked at an animal clinic for years. Working with animals has also inspired her to become a vegetarian, because she loves animals and would never eat one. But she hates people and would totally eat a person if she had half the chance.
I have noticed that, when my parents are back in their own home town, they are more apt to drive with confidence and ease. Ten years ago, an auto insurance company survey showed that the reason 10% of accidents occur near your home, while only 17% occur more than 20 miles away is because people tend to sharpen their focus more on longer trips. While they tend to drive more careless in their “familiarity zone.” And, since most driving is done close to home, there you have it.
It’s just easy for some people to get irritated at elderly drivers. And, yes, some should not be allowed to drive. But consider this… when your aging parents are required to surrender their driving papers and issued their walking papers, it’s all about losing their independence that hurts them the most.
Until next week…be nice to old people.
Daun Thompson