Nicholl: Inevitable decision to take elder’s license

When my dad was almost 80, I noticed sometimes he struggled to focus when looking for things. I asked my never-go-to-the-doctor dad when his last eye exam was.

When my dad was almost 80, I noticed sometimes he struggled to focus when looking for things. I asked my never-go-to-the-doctor dad when his last eye exam was.

“Oh, it’s so hard to get an appointment. It takes months,” he said, brushing it off.

“Then book now. You need to get in and get your glasses updated,” I chided.

“It’s not that bad. I can still see in the middle.”

“In the middle?”

“Yes, I have trouble focusing on each side when I look straight ahead. But, I can see clearly in the middle.”

“What about top and bottom?”

“That’s a bit off, too.”

“So, it’s the little spot in the middle that’s in focus and everything else is blurry? It’s like when your windshield is frosty and you scrape a little hole to see?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Dad, you’re still driving. You drive almost every day to see mom at the care home. You shouldn’t be on the road.”

“It’s fine. It’s only a couple of miles. I just drive straight there.”

“No turns?”

“No.”

“And, hopefully there’s no one else on the road at the time—especially beside you.”

“It’s pretty quiet.”

“Dad!”

He was being sarcastic, as was his way, and his sight wasn’t quite that bad. Still, we had an issue. While he knew his eyesight was limited and getting worse, he still felt he could drive. It didn’t really dawn on him that he couldn’t.

He had always driven. He had to drive. The way he saw it, driving now was just a bit more challenging.

This was serious. He would have to hang up his driver’s licence. He could critically hurt himself or someone else.

It’s tough when a piece of independence and convenience is taken away. I felt for my dad, but we would have to deal with it.

This incident came to mind when reading about the 88-year-old, legally blind man from the Lower Mainland who was given probation for killing a traffic flagger three years ago. Although the elderly man didn’t have a driver’s licence, he was driving when he fatally struck the flagger.

That might have been my dad.

No one should get behind the wheel when it’s clearly not safe to do so, but I understand that not everyone agrees on what is unsafe.

When you’re legally blind and don’t have a driver’s licence, there’s no question. But, when you still have a licence and you haven’t had any problems driving, maybe it seems fine from that perspective.

The other case in the news recently was the 74-year old Vancouver man, a former professional driver, who allegedly had his licence taken away because of concerns his abilities might be impaired. Although most of his medical professionals said he was fine to drive after his stroke two years before, the reports stated, an occupational therapist felt he wasn’t and his licence was taken away.

I don’t know whether he is capable of driving or not, but the question is how this is decided. Many question the computer driver’s test to measure cognitive ability to drive. Some say a road test makes more sense, since many seniors don’t sit at a computer all day and aren’t that savvy with the approach.

Senior drivers don’t actually cause that many accidents as compared to the other driving population. The reason for that stat, many say, is because fewer seniors are on the road. Presumably, many seniors take themselves off the road when they feel they’re not comfortable to drive anymore.

But, it’s tough when someone refuses to go. I remember being scared as a child driving with my grandfather. That was when the road signs switched from miles to kilometres and my grandfather would have no part of it.

“If it says 60, I’m going 60,” he’d spout. That, however, may have been more of an attitude issue than driving impairment. Still, he drove long after he should not have.

As the population ages, these questions about driving ability are going to be asked more often. We’re an independent, car-dependent lot, so it won’t be easy to get us off the roads when we should go.

The possible consequences, however, need to be at the forefront, not feelings about the loss of independence.

I think about that flagger who died. It was tragic and avoidable.

I am thankful we took my dad off the road when we did.

Shelley Nicholl owns Mad Squid Ink, a professional writing service.

madsquid@shaw.ca

www.madsquidink.com