Full Circle: Waiting for the Crash
If you’re old and you don’t drive so well, you won’t like this

My uncle Joe Atkin had a Hudson Hornet. Shaped and styled like the Graf zeppelin, it was, in its full glory, the size of an aircraft carrier. Uncle Joe loved that car. He loved it so much, he drove it for 20 years. Near the end, he would drive it so slowly down Bustleton Avenue, the cops would think it was a funeral procession. As he passed, men stood still on the sidewalk and removed their hats.

As blind men blew their horns, Uncle Joe just shook his head. “Slow and steady wins the race,” he said. I have covered the Indy 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and I am here to tell you that slow and steady is for parades and tortoises.

Uncle Joe’s favorite niece was always my mother. She made him kugel, he took her for rides. It was a good deal.

My mother would die without ever driving a car. She never got a license. There was no need for it. We never had more than one car. And my father drove that one to work. When my mother’s turn came to carpool the kids to Hebrew school, she did what any resourceful woman of the ,50s would do. She called a cab.

I was at the DMV last week. Or whatever they’re calling it these days. You know who was there getting an eye test? No one.

Think about it. When you’re 16, you get a license to operate a 4,000-pound machine at speeds of 60 miles an hour. And that’s it. Good luck. Have a nice life. They don’t call you back when you’re 56 or 66 or 76 to retest you – to put you in a car and see if you react to a rabbit running across the road. Or another car. Or a group of school kids. The just cash your check and wish you well.

I tell you this as an old person: Old people driving, some with diminished capacity and compromised reflexes, has become a big problem in this state.

Fatality rates for drivers begin to climb steadily after 65, an AAA Foundation study shows. From ages 75 to 84, the vehicle death rate is equal to that of teenage drivers. And, for drivers 85 and older, the fatality rate zooms to nearly four times higher than that for teens.

This is even scarier when the Census Bureau projects there will be 9.6 million people 85 and older by 2030.

And what does New Jersey do to make sure its older drivers aren’t out killing people? Nothing. Here’s your license. See you in five years. I mean, think about it. However old you may be, hasn’t your eyesight changed a little in five years? And maybe your reflexes?

But New Jersey doesn’t require older drivers to renew licenses in person. And, unless you’ve just been in an accident, you’re on your own. I thought, for sure, when I got my recent notice to come to the DMV, that I was going to have to take an eye test. I even brought my cheaters. But the only thing I needed my eyes for was to sign the check.

Now, I know there are people who are going to say you can’t put restrictions on older drivers because they need a way to get to the market or to a doctor’s appointment.

Well, there are friends, there are neighbors, there are those little buses that take seniors around. They’re not as convenient as your own car? Too bad. Driving 25 miles an hour on a 55 miles an hour road isn’t convenient for me. Neither is getting hit by old men who can’t read street signs and have the response of a melon.

You need a lift? You call my Uncle Joe. Let’s see, Northeast Philly to Route 70. Yeah, he’ll be by to pick you up in 2017. Leave a light on.

October 2011
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