REFLECTIONS: On Liberalism

Old People Driving - A Documentary

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.

Herbert Bauer, Shaleece Haas, Milton Cavalli

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.

Milton in his Model T

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.”

Herbert Bauer

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


That's a wonderful trailer.

This is an extremely painful subject for me. Driving was the facet of growing old in which my much loved mother set me a terrible example. She held on to her independence grimly; she "didn't want to be a burden" -- she knew no other way to be. That meant she had to drive.

At 89, she had a small stroke in a supermarket parking lot, hit three cars and two people, killing one. She had no memory of the event, but lived two more years (not driving obviously) in depression and confusion.

I ask myself often, will I have the courage to make arrangements to stop driving when I should? Letting nature take its course can be brutal.

We faced this with our parents. My father-in-law was very aware of his abilities and when he died in his early 90s, he was still capable of recognizing whether he was wise to drive or not. Would that all elders could see for themselves whether they have the reflexes and vision to stay on the road. They may not be involved in accidents when they can't drive the speed limit, but they may cause them as they drive on. I try to be patient out here when I recognize it's one of the elders (elder than me that is) and they really cannot go that fast. Not everyone is. I think the ability to drive after a certain age needs to be evaluated by vision and reflex tests at DMV offices. Those who can evaluate their own skills won't even bother trying when they reach a point that they see it isn't working so well anymore.

My mother didn't get her license until she was in her late 60s and she was incredibly proud of it. When she got macular degeneration, we realized she should not drive and made sure she didn't until the time came to renew that precious license. The test led to a demand that her doctor would have to okay her for driving. She felt they had cheated her. Her doctor, of course, would not, and she no longer could drive legally even though she hadn't for a year probably ahead of that due to us. It was an emotional blow more than anything as she lived in a mobile home on this farm and we took her to doctors and stores. Still it hurt. It is a big loss of freedom without a doubt but the state has to do it if family cannot convince people that it's time to give it up.

My mother was a marvel (she died in 2005 at 86). Growing up my siblings and I would ask her occasionally why she didn't get her license. "Why do I need it when I have your dad" was her response every time. Then my dad died at 63. At 65 years old my mom took driving lessons. Took the test and failed THREE times. The fourth time was the charm and she passed. She drove just in her neighborhood to church and to the supermarket and drug store and her volunteer job. She volunteered to give up driving when she turned 80. With her diminishing eyesight she felt it was time. But even with only 15 years of driving, she still lamented about her loss of freedom on occasion.

Interesting that you post this today. My post has to do with driving - or the loss of it - also.

I laughed at the car having 9 flat tires just on the way to the movies.

When I was a child my Dad had a 1932 Chevy and we went for a ride every Sunday.
Before we left, my Dad made all the plans for what we would do when we got THE flat tire.

He never said that we may get a flat ,it was a foregone conclusion that even on a short ride we would get a flat.And we always did.

On another note....

My husband is 82 years old and a wonderful driver and I dread the day he has to turn over the keys and not drive anymore. It will not be a good day...

Today, in the pouring rain, I'm off to do my regular hours at the Cancer Society's Discovery Shop....on the bus for the first time. I live less than a mile away from the store, but it will take over and hour and two buses to get there. I too, want to see if I can do this myself, so armed with a new electronic bus pass, umbrella, lunch, book, and water, I'll be out of here in half an hour.

My grandfather drove blind often hitting the stone gates at the country club and once killing a small child on a tricycle. Mother took his car away from him and gave it to me....not telling me what had happened. It set me free.

I'll be very grateful when I get my license back, but I am well aware now that this grace will be only temporary. For perhaps ten or fifteen more years I will be free to move about town on my own. Then you can always be busing in the rain, or sun, or....

Would that I still lived in Marin so that I could hop over to Mill Valley and watch the whole film. I'm passing this post on to my friends in the area.... the clip is beautiful.

I voluntarily gave up driving after rear-ending a Humvee. I totaled my car; fortunately the Humvee only had a broken tail light. I knew that I was not really seeing well enough to drive and decided it was time to quit before the next accident caused a death.

It was really hard. Waiting for a bus in 110* heat and carrying heavy packages was the pits. I hated asking for rides to the doctor's or places where the bus didn't go. But a good neighbor helped out. After I moved I paid a new neighbor to drive me to the doctors. But I started staying home rather than impose on someone else.

Eventually, I was eligible to ride the City Van that picked me up at my door. (You must be unable to ride the city bus to take the van). I have not been to the Mall or similar places in years. I only take the van to the doctor's office.

It really limits you when you live alone and you sacrifice a lot of independence when you give up your car keys. Nonetheless, just like becoming old beats the alternative, giving up driving your car does also.

At least the tires are better on our cars now. In the 40's when my folks drove us from Seattle to Portland as kids we always had 2-3 flats. Nine must be a record.

I dread not being able to drive. My lifelong pleasure has been roaming around in my car. I am planning on avoiding both my grandpa's and my father's pivotal last drives however. They both were t-boned in intersections. No one was hurt fortunately although both of their cars were totalled. Grandpa actually drove out into a car on I-5, while Dad was only one block from home distracted by caring for our dying mother. Miraculous. Someday when I have to stop driving and get rid of the car I plan to appreciate the extra money and delight in letting go of the upkeep. Maybe by then getting a train out of this burg will be easier and I can still go view the countryside.

I'm in an area not serviced by public transit and 100km from city, so to give up the car keys would be to consign myself to the stale awful processed food in the one local shop and remove movies, theatre, galleries, etc from my life.
I dread the thought.

“If you have to live by yourself,” says Herbert, “tell yourself you're in good company.”

Aye there is the rub. Short of an accident who is to relay the driving skill is not what it should be when one lives and drives solo?

I lament the inevitable day I have to hand over my keys. Already I cannot drive the long extended road trips I so enjoyed years ago. And at night, I can barely see at all. I hope I have the courage to admit the need to let go.

Thanks for this post, Ronni. I look forward to seeing the entire movie. It sounds like an intelligent documentary on a sensitive subject.

No driving license is worth maiming or worse killing someone. Old people who continue out of pride or selfishness deserve nothing but that dreadful "greedy geezer" title. I too am unable to drive at night and limit my excursions to very local. No date no matter the occasion justifies the possibility of harming others.

What a great post, Ronni, but, boy, does this topic scare me to death. It will be so hard for me to give up my freedom, but, at 60, I can already tell that the highway isn't my friend any more.

Mom at 88, tells me the single most soul killing issue for seniors, is, handing over their car keys. Mom and most of her friends 80 plus, will not take the bus. Why? They are afraid to fall, afraid of teens, worried about standing at bus stops. Many bus kiosks in Montreal have been smashed, are full of litter. Seniors do not deserve to lose their freedom just when they need it most.

I rack my thin hair head for a solution. So far, giving mom taxi vouchers works, but that is expensive.

Those little electric wheelie things are good for the summer, but not Canadian winters.

This issue of losing car keys will not go away. We need to find a solution now.

Losing permission to drive means being stuck, trapped.

What kind of reward is that for all the years spent building communities, paying taxes, raising children?

If seniors could fly, they'd be out of here.

Forgot to say mom handed her keys over ten years ago. She doesn't want to drive. All she wants is a way for seniors to get around, have some independence.

She keeps hoping for some kind of invention- a way for seniors to get around, something safe, easy to use in all weather.

A hot air balloon?


Well, I don't think all elderly drivers are bad, but I have to say that teens are sometimes worse. My car got totalled a year ago by a teen who was texting while driving! I'm 58, it was the teens fault...didn't even see him since he hit the rear of my car, ran a stop sign. I honestly think texting/driving should carry the same penalities as drinking/driving.

At any rate, one of the saddest days in my life was watching my grandfather give up his car keys. He'd had a stroke, had to quit driving at 88. However, he did get me and my sister to take him for his driver's license renewel...but he knew he couldn't drive. It was more just the "act" of having that license in his pocket.

I dread the day I can't drive, because here in the South, mass transportation is just about non-existent.

What a surprise to find Herbert in your entry! He gave up his driver's license about 2 weeks before his 100th birthday and was given an award by the local police, at his 100th birthday party, for having driven all those years without a ticket, not even a parking ticket!

Good video it looks like from this excerpt. Reminds me of my teenage brothers first car, a Model T with a rumble seat. I recall driving with him to a Redbird, I think it was called, gas station where he bought 25 cents worth of gas.

Yes, teens have a much higher accident rate than elders. While some elders may have a stroke while driving, or lose consciousness, that's not of high prevalence. I haven't checked, but I'd not be at all surprised if there are a far greater number of accidents caused by those who are intoxicated, but they seem to continue behind the wheel after several convictions.

I think there's a lot of needed education combating some stereotypical attitudes toward elder drivers. Each person needs to be assessed based on their own mental and physical functions.

I recall my Mother's good friend, who independently recognized and accepted the time had come for her to relinquish her driver's license when she was in her mid-eighties. She thought long and hard on the matter, not wanting to wait until others suggested it to her, or she had to have the privilege taken away. She talked much with my mother about it, especially since my mother hadn't been able to drive since in her late forties due to vision issues. Would that we all could exercise the same good judgment when the time comes, whatever our age, since it will vary for each of us.

Most elders I encounter seem to most desire maintaining their independence and I'm no exception. That's what we strive for when we're young, so loss of independence at any age, or trying to adapt to loss of some aspects of it becomes the challenge.

I see an increasing number of a variety of small vehicles, not intended for use on a freeway or major highway, being driven on a few streets in my city. They can't be driven at very high speeds either.

I think consideration of where to live for all of us as we age should include assessment of access to transportation. Some people find using a cab less expensive than maintaining a car. Our community, as do many towns, has created an inexpensive system designed for those with little or no means to pay for transportation they call "Get About."

My mother renewed her license at age 94 by guessing (!!) the answers on the eye test. She continued to drive until she was 96, when her health declined enough for her to have to move to assisted living. We sold the car; she decided to sell it rather than renew the car insurance. She regretted it until the day she died, two years later, even though she knew she couldn't drive.

When we came back to live in England, which - being so much smaller - has much better public transport than many parts of the US, I let my driving license lapse with a huge sigh of relief. I always hated driving and love it that I don't have to do it any more. (We haven't owned a car in 12 years). Public transport is much more eco-friendly than cars anyway and walking and cycling are healthier. Not only that but everyone over 60 here gets to travel free on local buses anywhere in the country. And so what if I have to carry my shopping? I think of it as free weight training and good for my muscles!

I was saddened to read some of the comments, and to realize that some friends of TGB are so isolated because of lack of transportation. I would love not to have to have a car. Right now, that is not possible. But your post and the responding comments are really making me think about walkability and bikeability options.

Obviously hit a nerve with this post!

Really good post!

This post struck a nerve with me, too. I'm only 63, but was diagnosed with myopic degeneration a couple years ago, and though the effects are not yet too profound and I'm responding well to treatment, the shape of the future is clear. I certainly won't be driving in my 90s. Sigh. I also dread the loss of independence that will come with the cessation of driving. Even though my town has a very good public transportation system (they will even come, on call, to your door, if you're elderly or disabled). It's free (assuming you don't count property taxes), and the town is well-run and SAFE. No accident that I chose this place for my old age. But without a car it's very difficult to reach other towns (multiple time-consuming bus transfers) and impossible to enjoy the mountains and beautiful natural attributes of the region. I've been proudly independent since a very young age and the idea of having to rely on others is (maybe irrationally) abhorrent. Even now, when I travel to see the retina specialist in a nearby city, for examination or treatment where they must dilate my eyes or otherwise mess up my vision, I have to be driven by a friend. She's very gracious and we make a day of it, doing lunch, maybe shopping or a museum, but it's still having to get a ride. It's nice, even helps, to know I'm not alone in feeling this way. Great post, great comments.

Kathleen, et. al.: I so agree with your great posts! I've driven since I was 15, and don't want to imagine the day when I can no longer get in my car and GO. At 81, my husband no longer drives at night due to declining night vision, so I'm the designated driver if we go anywhere after dark (which doesn't occur all that frequently these days).

At almost 74 I don't have any problems yet, but I've already established some common sense guidelines for myself that can be modified later. Whenever possible, I do my driving during daylight hours and avoid the freeway during rush-hour traffic. If I have a choice, I'd rather not hit the road when it snows. I haven't driven downtown in our nearby major city for several years. Too much hassle--steep hills, one-way streets, continual construction projects and lots of people in a hurry. Parking is scarce and wildly expensive, so why bother since I don't need to go there?

That said, like so many other TGB respondents, driving is a matter of independence for me. It will be a very dark day if/when I must surrender my keys!

Just the other day, an 89 year old driver veered into the oncoming lane on a two lane road and hit a truck. His 87 year old wife died and he was very badly injured. This happened a few hundred feet away from my house.
I plan to quit driving at age 80 or sooner, for my sake and sake of others.

I developed encephalitis and as a result
was in an accident and totaled my car. I soon had my license suspended. I have since recovered . My kids refuse to have me drive. I am 84 and still miss not driving. I use the town van and a service
that a local agency suplies 3 hrs two times a week. Thanks for the support.

Eileen Thurs 07, October 2010

the loss of your independence is huge.
not having a car at times has forced me to ask for help and not be so shy. it gives me a chance to talk to people on the way, and maybe make a new friend.

Why would I pay $20 for a 20 minute documentary. That's like a dollar a minute, I can buy drugs for cheaper than that and have a good time.

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