March 26, 2014

Pause for Reflection, #2: To Drive or Not To Drive?

It's time to revisit this perennial issue. I last posted my thoughts in September 2011, after totaling my car the previous month. At that time, I created a list of things I could do to make the roads safer for me and others. I've been pretty good about sticking to those recommendations, but it's time for review.

This “Pause for Reflection” series was prompted by my turning 85 in two months, the setbacks I experienced on my recent "Trip from Hell,” and my skin cancer surgery. All those factors play into my new thoughts about driving.

I got back from the Valparaiso-to-Buenos Aires cruise on a Saturday, rested on Sunday, and drove on Monday to my regularly scheduled bridge game at the local senior center. Back in 2011, I decided it was OK for me to make that short 15-minutes drive. The senior center is also where my weekly Parkinson’s support group meets. In addition, I'd often drive to that same neighborhood -- and park -- to catch the Metro.

Driving to the recent bridge game, I felt post-trip fatigue. I felt much worse on the trip home. I later realized I’d forgotten to take my noon Parkinson’s med. So, I decided to take the less-traveled side streets, which I thought were safer than the faster, more direct four-lane route.

As I drove down a quiet residential street, I saw a little girl, maybe six years old, come out of her house and walk toward the sidewalk and road. I slowed way down and was relieved to see her stop before reaching the road.

But later, I kept thinking; "What if she had suddenly run into the road? Would my reaction time have been good enough to stop the car quickly?" I wasn't sure.

At supper that evening, my housemates Nimesh and Bhawana raised the subject of my continued driving. They wanted me to stop driving completely, but we made a compromise agreement: I'll now only make the five-minute drive to the neighborhood shopping center. My Safeway, CVS, and -- most importantly -- my Lebanese carryout store "Figs" and the Sunday farmers' market are right there.

2011 Driving Checklist Updated
Here are the changes I’m making to the 2011 checklist:
  • Use the car only for local driving on familiar streets to familiar locations. [The new definition of “local driving” will reduce my driving time and distances by about 90 percent.] 
  • Don't drive on superhighways. [No problem. I’ve been happy with this 2011 decision.]
  • Be particularly cautious when changing lanes. The close calls I've had in recent years have always come from starting to change lanes without checking my car's blind spot. [The trip to the shopping center involves three blocks on a four-lane street and requires no lane changes.]
  • Make much more use of public transportation. I live two blocks from a bus stop where I can catch a bus that takes me through the heart of downtown DC with stops within easy walking distance of the Mall, its galleries and museums (with their free admission!). I'm also just a short, familiar drive away from a Metro subway stop that gives me direct access to most of the metropolitan area. [Under the revised guideline, I won’t drive to the Metro station, but I'll probably ride Metro home from my Shakespeare Theater evenings and have Nimesh and/or Bhawana pick me up at the station. Using buses won’t work for me now since the progression in my Parkinson’s makes it very difficult to climb up and down the steep hill between my house and the bus stop.]
  • Don't turn down offers to help. [Asking for help is never easy for me, but, out of necessity, I’m getting better at it.]
  • Make more use of taxis. [I’ve been using cabs more and more.]
The Big Concern
Taxi fare isn't the issue. I worry that giving up virtually all driving might have a negative effect on my quality of life in one particular way: not driving may well reduce doing the small, often spontaneous, things that have always enriched my life.

Here’s an example: I week ago I got an email from a pal inviting me to see a documentary about Elaine Stritch with him downtown. I love Elaine, and I hadn’t seen this friend in a long time. In my driving days, I’d have said "yes" and jumped in the car. But if joining my pal meant calling a cab, waiting for it to show up, getting the timing right, flagging a cab after the movie, and adding the cost of two cab rides to the price of the ticket . . . would I still say yes? (It wasn't an issue in this instance, since I'd just had the skin cancer surgery and was under orders to avoid any exertion,)

Encourage and Support Seniors in Self-Regulation of Driving Decisions
I was glad to see a recent study by the Queensland University of Technology. It concluded that encouraging seniors to self-regulate their driving -- rather than revoking licenses based on age -- can improve safety and enhance independence for older drivers.

Study leader Dr. Ides Wong said:
People do not wake up on their 75th birthday a worse driver than they were the day before, which is what current age-based testing assumes . . . . 
As part of my study, I used in-car monitoring to confirm that older drivers do self-regulate their driving such as avoiding peak-hour traffic and night-time driving. 
We do know that taking away a person’s license impacts on their mobility, independence, health, and overall quality of life. Not having a license can be socially isolating and can result in health issues like depression.

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