Trying to get home from Miami International Airport (MIA) and I’m inundated by old people. All over the roads. Driving. Cars. BIG ONES! Truly half of them (the old people) seem to have at least one faculty that is MIA (Missing In Action). They can’t see. They can’t hear. They have big lead feet, speeding up I-95 at 90 miles an hour as if they’re late for something. So, why do old people drive? It’s not as if they have someplace to go. After all, they should have been to all of the important places in their lives by now. For the sake of this argument, let’s say that by old, I mean anyone Medicare age and older; sixty-five plus years. I know that this includes a significant portion of the population, especially here in the Sunshine State (Florida). Furthermore, I realize that we all are getting there (old): When I went to bed last night, I was sixteen. Sixteen! This morning, I woke up in a rather grand old house with two alien children (who claim that I created them with a slightly built, balding man) and I am approaching 40 to boot!
Some of my best friends are old people. All of them drive. They drive huge, gas guzzling cars. Some of the cars are old. Some of the cars are new. My friend, Roy, drives a top-of-the-line Lexus. Because he’s not mechanically inclined (meaning that he can’t fix anything on a car), he leases a new one every three years. The cars get bigger and faster because Roy (who admits to being old) says that he gets slower and slower, and has less time to get anywhere than, say, a younger person. As Roy is eighty-six, he may be right. Florida should have revoked his driving privileges years ago: The man refuses to stop at a stop sign. He approaches the sign at full speed, removes his foot from the gas, then coasts to the point at which he should come to a full halt. He looks right. He looks left. Then he sails through the intersection. If a car approaches from any direction, he simply changes course and goes either right or left, cutting across numerous lanes of traffic.
My seventy-six year old father, Dan, drives a 1983 Ford pick-up. He claims that the truck has never let him down. Both Dan and the truck have the battle scars to prove it. They have run into numerous objects in the past two years; a church sign advertising a bingo game, a KFC drive through order sign, and several Halloween pumpkins along Sumpter Road in beautiful downtown Belleville, Michigan. The man has a cataract growing in one eye and wears glasses (with one lens) to see out of the other. Neither my brother nor my mother can convince him that it is time, finally, to leaving the driving to someone else.
The Florida turnpike to Disney World is replete with examples of old people who should no longer be allowed to drive. Think about the people you see at Disney World: grandparents (old people) with their loving grandchildren. And just how do you think they got there? THEY DROVE! They drove Recreational Vehicles (RVs), sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs), and big old clunker Cadillacs. The speed limit on the turnpike is 70 miles per hour. The RVs race the SUVs at 90 miles per hour to see which will be first at Disney’s main gate. The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) loves this north – south corridor: It’s a sure fire, end-of-the-month moneymaker. FHP issues more citations in one month along this route that along any other in the state over six months.
When a Floridian reaches the age of sixty-five, the state of Florida should no longer allow automatic license renewal. The driver should receive a summons for re-testing; vision, road sign identification, hearing, and an actual road test. Of course, the great state of Florida will claim that it doesn’t have the funds to call all of its senior population in for examination. Would it rather face countless lawsuits from persons maimed and disabled (or worse) by the senior citizen who either couldn’t find the brake or confused the brake with the gas? Is it cheaper to pay off the family of the poor soul who never made it to the emergency room (the ambulance was struck by the eighty-year-old who didn’t hear the siren) than to subsidize hearing tests? Most residents over the age of sixty-five in Miami do not speak English: And, unfortunately, road signs here are, still, not recognized universally.
Florida needs to take a stand: At the age of sixty-five, one must either be tested or give up the license to drive. Road testing the sixty-five plus set will not be a simple feat. Take, for example, my father. At the appointed time, he drives his 1983 Ford to the Division of Motor Vehicles. The instructor, all of twenty-two, winces as they get into the vehicle. He takes out his checklist containing several items on which he will judge my father’s performance; adherence to road signs, turning manuvers, ability to judge distances, etc. My father attempts to start the truck (the one that never lets him down) and fails. He reaches under the seat, pulls out a metal pipe (the one he keeps for emergencies) and starts poking furiously into a hole that once contained a radio. He inserts a key into the ignition, turns it, and, in a cloud of smoke and soot, off they go. The ride is not unpleasant for the young instructor, it’s just different: He usually rides in a vehicle in which the coils (needed for suspension) have not been removed. My father says that the truck now drives like one of the newer, lighter models. The instructor issues a few simple commands, which my father obeys promptly. Turn right. The instructor is thrown against the door. Stop. The instructor gets a whiplash. Park here. The truck comes to an abrupt halt against a curb as my father negotiates into too small a space. Of course, he fails the test, then proceeds to advise the instructor that he has been driving for more years that the young man has walked the earth.
And just how would the State of Florida benefit from all of this testing? Why, it would realize a significant increase in revenue: Sixty-eight percent of its residents are over the age of sixty-five. No, the seniors would not pay. Along would come my favorite Uncle, Sam, to award Florida a sizable bounty for becoming one of the first states to institute the Gray Driver Club: If you pass all of the tests (highly unlikely), you become a certified gray, safe driver and get a one day pass to Disney World. Driving schools, catering to cash-endowed retirees, would spring up across the state. This, in turn, would provide additional revenue for tax coffers. In a state that has no income tax, this achievement would not go unnoticed. Local auto dealers would target advertisements to the new and improved drivers, taking them back to their youths in a procession of gray Corvettes and Porsches (no harm intended @SharkbaitWrites). Even insurance companies would reap benefits from what may, initially, appear as a loosing proposition. Rather than bemoan the loss of insurance premiums, they could now increase rates for some of their most prized customers; sixteen to twenty-five year old males.
The possibilities are endless. If the state finds that the testing program works starting at sixty-five, just think what would happen if the age were gradually lowered: from sixty-five to sixty, from sixty to fifty-five, from fifty-five to fifty. How low could it go? As low as it takes to make Florida an uncommonly tedious place to drive. In fact, a newborn could come home with its license to drive, just as it comes now with a Social Security number. The child could drive as soon as its little legs could reach the pedals. Since driving careers would probably span no more than a decade (two at the most) think how truly safe the roads in Florida would become. Testing the aging drive (read, getting old people off the roads) is an idea whose time has surely come.