A driver’s licence is the key to maintaining self-worth for many elderly

To the Expositor:

I am writing this letter as a result of an article in January 25th Sudbury Star by Jacqueline Rheaume on “Task force tackles aging drivers.”

There has been an increasing focus on seniors driving skills and abilities. TV and radio interviews I have listened to, as well as articles in The Expositor and Sudbury Star are causing me concern. My question is, “Where is all this going to lead?”

With the task force there is the possibility for someone who has a personal grievance with a senior to anonymously call in and have the driving habits of that senior examined. This is a very real concern. Maybe the ones that need to be reported are the ones who speed past us around corners and up hills that cause great risk of fatal accidents, and seldom are they seniors. It is not necessarily the speed but the no visibility around corners and on hills that provides the greatest risk. These types of drivers display sheer stupidity and a lack of respect and concern for others as well as themselves. Those in the oncoming lane have no chance to make a decision on what to do as they round the corner or come over the hill and are confronted with an unexpected head on collision. At least if a driver is on a straight stretch and there is a potential for an accident there may be a split second that a choice can be made to save a life.

We are also aware that with education, being informed and kept up to date with any changes in rules, regulations and laws it helps reduce risks and accidents. The proof is evidenced by a 45 percent reduction in fatal collisions involving seniors with the implementation of free refresher courses for seniors and the 80+ driver education program. This is excellent. My concern goes beyond.

I feel all seniors should keep tabs on what is happening with regards to seniors and driving. We become senior citizens before we know it and we do not want to be forbidden to drive just because we are 75 or 80 and a number of 75- or 80-year-olds have been sited as being in or causing accidents. Let us try and keep accountability where it belongs. Do not make everyone pay for a few. Yes there are people that need to have their drivers’ licence evoked because of physical or mental reasons but let us keep this at an individual level. Let us pray that we still live in a democratic country were getting old is not going to be punished by losing our drivers licence at a certain age. This is my big concern.

As a registered nurse that did home care nursing for many years here on Manitoulin Island, I witnessed the dramatic changes in peoples’ lives when they lost their drivers licence. Yes everyone should be aware to watch and report signs of concern of a family member to their family physician, but also be aware of the ramifications of what it means to the individual losing his licence. Be very supportive of them. He or she loses their independence. They now need to rely on family and friends for many tasks they could previously do for themselves. It affects their self-esteem, and puts them at the mercy of others; doing tasks, not when they wish them done but when their driver has time to take them. Often people who have been very independent do not like to ask or burden others for a ride. There is the risk of self-care neglect if there is no immediate family to over see their health and safety. They may not want to ask someone to run to the grocery store for food items or to the pharmacy for medication refills. Also there is the risk of isolation which can occur if the senior has no family, no living close friends that have concern for their well being and is not receiving home care services. All these reasons can cause depression in our seniors. I remember one senior I looked after here in one of our small Island communities and the effect losing his licence had on him. Fortunately his family physician became concerned and between the senior, physician and drivers tester all working together for the health and safety of everyone it was decided and approved that he could continue to have his licence with restrictions. He was restricted to driving in town only. This enabled him to resume his usual daily routine of going to the small downtown garage and socializing which helped maintain his quality of life until his death. Health and safety and quality of life are concerns we have for everyone. I feel that there is a balance that can be reached, similar to what was attained for my patient mentioned above.

We, more often than not, take things in everyday life for granted until it is lost. It is a privilege to drive and we must not abuse it. Take a moment to think of what losing your licence would mean to you. We hop in the car on the spur of the moment, go for leisurely drives through our countryside and see the beauty, peace and tranquility God has provided for us here on this Island. To visit family and friends near and far, run errands, go to appointments, do volunteer commitments, and fulfill our daily needs all we do is jump in our vehicle, turn the key and off we go. Never take this for granted. Protect this right. Let’s not lose it. Keep informed on what is happening with our right as seniors to drive. As the saying goes, “Old too soon, smart too late.” Let this not be us.

Please keep in mind, up till now, there has not been any mention of restricting driving at a certain age. This is merely a fear I have and I feel the potential is there for unfair targeting of seniors and age limitations being set.

This is merely food for thought to all seniors out there. Mind you even the young will become seniors one day so this also concerns you.

Joanne Wade