This month alone Massachusetts has had four accidents involving older drivers. According to The Boston Channel, "On June 2, a 93-year-old man drove his car into a Danvers Wal-Mart, injuring a mother and her baby. Just days later, a 73-year-old woman lost control of her minivan and crashed into a crowd gathered for a memorial in Plymouth."
The death of this Diya Patel has caused Massachusetts residents to ask some tough questions about whether older folks should be driving, and the Mass legislature to introduce a bill calling for mandatory road testing for anyone wanting to drive past the age of 85.
While I'm a big believer in encouraging freedom and independence for our older members of society, I couldn't agree more that this measure is needed. I witnessed my grandmother driving well past a point of safety and comfort, accumulating minor traffic violations and fender benders. She and a friend ultimately ended up in a very serious accident that neither recovered from. The only good that came from that accident was that we got my grandmother off the road. But, her dignity and independence were gone. We had to put her in a nursing home to recover from the accident and she never recovered. It was like her soul was sucked from her. While drive was dangerous to her and others, it allowed her that spark she needed each and every day. I always wondered if we had found another way to get her off the road, well before that accident, could we have preserved her dignity? Could have have preserved that spark we all looked forward to seeing in her eyes?
The driver who struck and killed little Diya is likely grappling with these issues right now. Not only is her dignity and sense of independence gone, but her virtual freedom may be as well as she's been charged with motor vehicle homicide by "negligent operation".
It's difficult to see our loved ones age and to have the discussions of restricting their means of freedom. So many skills are involved in driving, however, it's in the best interest of the elderly driver and everyone else to have mandatory road tests. This isn't just about reading an eye chart. This is about handling a moving vehicle and reaction times.
Our parents once helped us learn to drive. Now we have to help them learn how to not drive. It's an uncomfortable role reversal but it's what we have to do when the tables turn and we realize that the shoe is on the other foot and the child must now care for the parent.
It's time we stopped turning a blind eye to the fact that our aging parents need us to care for them, even if it means saying "no" to things they want to do. If we can do that, and with driving, Diya's death will not have been in vain.