Time to Stop Driving

by June Nessler, Redding, California

It is time. I have decided that I can no longer drive.

It happened so gradually–this decrease in my vision brought about by macular degeneration–that I hardly noticed the many compensations I was making to facilitate my driving. For instance, I was driving slower in order to be sure that I could react quickly enough should an obstacle that I could not see from a distance of a few hundred feet suddenly loom across my path. I was avoiding unfamiliar roads. I was becoming more alert–a good thing for drivers in general–but this constant alertness was producing tension in my body that tended to tire me.

I had stopped jumping into the car at every excuse to go somewhere. I, who had enjoyed driving hundreds of miles even on unfamiliar roads, was now making up excuses to stay home. I realized I could no longer see road signs clearly and found myself relying more and more on their shapes for information. Besides, I was familiar with our local area, and I knew what practically all of our signs had printed on them. But what of those new ones that I wouldn’t know?

Then there was the fact that there were fewer straight lines in my life. The white and yellow lines in the road appeared to me as somewhat wavy. The telephone poles were no longer straight, but seemed to list and appeared crooked. It was easy to compensate for this problem by simply pretending everything was straight and normal.

Then it happened: I was driving in the right-hand lane of the Interstate, having done my usual shopping in a town 20 miles from ours, when I saw a large box about 40 inches square protruding from the side of the road into my lane. It was easily avoided, and everything would have been fine if I had seen the other box–the same size–directly in front of me. Perhaps it was just as well that I plowed into it at 55 or 60 miles an hour because, had I seen it at the very beginning, I might have reflexively swerved into the cars on my left to avoid it, thereby causing a terrible crash.

As it was, the box I had hit and carried on my bumper off the freeway contained soft divan pillows. Both boxes had probably fallen from a delivery truck. No one was hurt nor was our car damaged. I was luckier than the person who ended up with a pillowless divan.

Perhaps this mishap could have been avoided if I had been able to see the box, say, from 500 feet away. Maybe I could have slowed down the traffic behind me. Then again, maybe the accident could not have been avoided in any case. But it made me think about what could happen if, for instance, I did not see a stray animal or a pet run into the road in front of me until it was too late. What if I couldn’t discern a person in a crosswalk in time? I could never survive injuring anyone–or even worse, causing a death! It would be too much for me. So I know that the time has come to give up the driving keys.

I live in a town where there is no taxi or bus service. My husband is very willing to drive me to wherever I want to go. My friends have assured me that all I need do is call and they’ll help. This I will do only in a dire emergency or if we are going to the same place at the same time. There is also Dial-A-Ride, through which one can arrange local transportation for a small fee. Also there is an intercity bus.

Of course, none of these options is as convenient as driving my own car. But when compared to injuring myself or someone else–well, it’s a no-brainer.

I remember how angry my uncle became when he was told that he should not be driving. He insisted on his right to drive and continued to do so until his grown children took his keys from him. With my dad it was the same way. It was a humiliating experience for both of them. They had been forced to cede control of that part of their lives to persons whom they themselves had raised from birth.

My decision to stop driving is my own and no one else’s. I do not want my husband or my children to have to tell me something I already know. I want to spare them the embarrassment of having to treat me like a child whose favorite toy is found to be too dangerous to play with. The situation would be too painful for all of us.

Pondering this event in my life, I have come to the conclusion that, like birth, puberty, marriage, giving birth, and entrance into midlife, I will consider this giving up driving simply as a rite of passage. Willy-nilly, it should and must be faced and undergone with dignity.