In a comment on a recent post here, Mage B who blogs at Postcards mentioned that her driver's license has been confiscated because she had lost consciousness.
It is one the greatest fears elders have – to give up driving, losing the freedom and convenience we have experienced all our lives and to become dependent on friends, relatives or public transportation (which isn't all that good in many places) for everything we need or want to do away from home.
A new documentary film titled, Old People Driving, sensitively explores the emotional and psychological aspects of giving up driving. The 35-year-old producer, Shaleece Haas, tells me that her goal is to dispel some of the myths about older drivers,
“but I didn't want to shy away from the fact that most people will outlive their ability to drive - usually by seven to 10 years - and that all of the alternatives to driving pale in comparison.”
According to Shaleece, there are three million drivers older than 85 in the U.S. and most people believe they are a menace on the road. However, Julio Lacayo, who is the older driver ombudsman for the California DMV, tells us in the film, it is a myth that old drivers are the worst drivers.
Although elder drivers have a 16 percent accident risk compared to other adult drivers, he explains in the film, those under age 25 have a 188 percent accident risk. And while teens most often kill others, old drivers are mostly a danger to themselves.
Shaleece's poignant film tells the stories of two elder drivers - Herbert Bauer, age 99 and her grandfather, Milton Cavalli, 96. Here are the three of them.
Milton has been a car buff all his life, starting with his first Model T when he was 14 years old. He still owns three of them and a Saxon too, which he drives with confidence. “Age has nothing to do with it,” says Milton, sounding like me on this blog when he explains how some people are old at 50 while others are still capable at 100.
Herbert, on the other hand, has been planning for what will be his last day behind the wheel of a car, intent on stopping driving “before someone invites me to change,” he says. When asked if he will miss his car, he says, “I plan to.”
Leading up to that final drive, Herbert visits a bicycle shop to try out an adult tricycle. He has broken his hip in the past and has trouble mounting the trike because the seat is too high for him. I was struck by the young sales girl who, standing nearby, is oblivious to Herbert's struggle.
But he doesn't give up and works out a deal with a friend who still drives to trade his car for her tricycle. Shaleece shows us that sometime later, it sits chained to the side of his house unused because, Herbert explains, his left leg has gotten worse.
On the fateful day of his last drive, Herb is careful not to break his perfect record of no accidents in 80 years of driving as he notes that his last left turn is coming up. It is a powerful moment when he removes the car key from his wallet to give to his friend who drives it away as Herb slowly walks into his house.
Nevertheless, Herbert says giving up driving is a triviality compared to giving up someone you've loved all your life, as he did when his wife died. Losing the freedom of a car is “nothing by comparison.”
Both of these men, the oldest of the old, accept the limitations of their age with astonishing equanimity and in Herbert's case, a humor that I hope I will develop should I live as long. “If you have to live by yourself,” says Herbert, “tell yourself you're in good company.”
Here is a short clip from the beginning of the 24-minute film:
You can find out more about Old People Driving here.
Shaleece Haas has made a remarkably beautiful film that everyone – old, young, caregivers - should see. It will premier on Sunday at the Mill Valley Film Festival, will be screened at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival on 16 and 19 October and will be shown too at the National Transportation Safety Board symposium on older drivers in Washington, D.C.
She hopes to it will be broadcast on television soon; DVD copies for personal use may be purchased online for $20.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, D. Sugar: The Bad, Good Old Days