On my way into work this morning, I saw an elderly lady getting out of her car, which was parked in the middle of the road at a busy junction. I thought she might have broken down, so I pulled into a convenience store and walked back to find out. I asked her if she was okay, and she said that her engine had just stopped. The car was in a dangerous position, so I offered to push her to a safe spot on the side. As I started to push, she put the car into gear (it was a manual transmission), so I had to tell her to leave it in neutral. As I was pushing her, another man came to help me, and we soon got her to the side of the road. She said that she didn’t have a telephone, so we asked her where she lived and who we could call to come and get her. She seemed quite confused, and I’m not sure she really understood what was going on. I asked her if it was possible that she might have run out of gas, but she said that she had plenty. I thought that she might have a flat battery, so I asked her if I could try the engine. When I turned the key, it started straight away! I think that she had stalled the engine at the junction and then just become confused. Anyway, she got back into the car, and shot off at high speed up the road. I don’t really know anything about this woman, but I am quite sure that she should not have been driving. She didn’t really seem to understand what was happening, and she was definitely not sufficiently alert and aware to be driving on a busy road.
In recent months, there have been a number of stories in the press here in Japan about older people causing accidents. For example, there was an incident in Nagoya a few weeks ago where an elderly man got confused and pressed the accelerator instead of the brake, crashing his car into a cafe and injuring some people. As the number of old people in Japan keeps growing, I’m sure we will start hearing more and more of these kinds of stories.
A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a talk show on BBC radio about this topic. The presenter was asking people how they coped with elderly relatives who are too old to drive, but who refuse to stop. It was a very interesting discussion.
Of course, it is not just a question of age. My dad is 76, and he still drives all kinds of vehicles, including huge trucks. A couple of years ago, my brothers and I paid for him to go to a rally driving school for a day. He and all the other students (most much younger than him) had practice sessions with instructors all day, and then a time trial race at the end. My dad was the fastest driver of the whole group! When I asked him last year if he was the oldest truck driver in Britain, he laughed. Apparently, there is a 90-year-old man who still drives the biggest type of trucks every day. His family were worried about him, and they asked him to allow a driving instructor to sit in with him for a day. The instructor’s comment at the end was that the old man was an excellent driver, and that he had learned a lot from watching him!
So, this week, I want to ask you the following questions:
1) Do you think there should be an upper age limit for holding a driver’s license?
2) Do you think older people should have to take a test every year?
3) Have you had any experience with an elderly relative who refused to stop driving?
Look forward to hearing your thoughts.