On January 7th -- my 91st birthday -- my driver’s license expired. Not long before, I had had a cataract operation that didn’t go as expected. The retinal doctor arranged for me to get a license that had these restrictions: I couldn’t drive at night, go over 45 miles an hour, or drive on Interstates. That said, I still had to pass the driver’s test. I felt uncomfortable and like I was 15 again. I passed, no problem.
Until then, when I wanted to go anywhere, I jumped into my British racing green MINI Cooper S. If the weather permitted, I rolled back the sunroof, rolled down the windows and was on my way. The MINI provided me with freedom, flexibility and the opportunity to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.
In my mind, the new restrictions were not that much of a burden. I usually I get to bed fairly early. Most of what I want or need to do can be done on local back roads. However, something shifted. I found myself becoming more easily distracted. My vision was not as clear as it had been and, even in areas that I was familiar with, I would occasionally take the wrong turn. Getting around in unfamiliar areas was becoming more difficult, especially when driving into the setting sun. I did not want to put myself or anyone else in jeopardy. I decided to give driving up.
The consequences were profound. Not only did I lose the freedom and flexibility that driving provided, I also lost the feeling of independence.
I had to rely on others. I am an economist by training. Not only does relying on others take additional time, energy, resources and funds (TERF), I have to adjust my needs to their availability. Sometimes I have to pay for services. Importantly, I was no longer able to jump into the MINI and give my friends a hand whenever I felt like it.
It has been three months since I decided to stop driving—except in five instances, which give you some insight into what is most important to me: a seminar at the Seymour Senior Center on Creativity with Carl Norgren and a follow up meeting at Caffè Driade; a meeting at the Chapel Hill Library on senior’s transition from independent living; taking a friend who had been in an accident out to eat; and once, when another friend from out of town visited who could not drive stick shift.
Giving up driving is isolating. It reduces my freedom, flexibility and independence. It makes it less possible for me to do what I want to do when I want to do it. To put it bluntly, giving up driving is a burden and a drag, even when it becomes necessary.
This is a newly explored territory that in some way or another, many of us have to work our way through. I decided to give up driving while the choice was mine. The alternative may have resulted in consequences I would not have wished to live with. It’s not easy, but I’m adjusting.
Bernie Kemp is a nominally retired economist, who writes about aging and other topics here: "Perspectives of a 91-year-old economist."