How Will I Know?

In my last article, I explored what could happen to our hoards of collector cars and parts if we become “estate sale originators.” Disposing of “worldly goods” might be stressful, but probably not life changing, as we advance in age. Something that is life changing is loss of mobility as we either voluntarily or involuntarily stop driving. It is very difficult to contemplate this as we are so dependent on our ability to drive for both necessity and pleasure. Without this ability, we are dependent on family, friends, or public transportation for mobility.

We can be stubborn about this circumstance but, at some point in time, we have to give in to our inevitable loss of ability to safely drive a car. I think any rational person would rather walk than be the cause of a car accident due to his or her diminished ability to safely drive. At age 91, it will probably not be too far into the future that a decision will have to be made about my ability to drive. How will it be made and by whom? Let me present some possibilities.

  • Government Regulation – partial copy below

Drivers 61 and older must renew every 5 years, while younger drivers must renew every 10 years. There is no online renewal for drivers who are 66 and older, but they may verify their eligibility for mail renewal by sending their name, date of birth, and license number to the Colorado Department of Revenue online.

Written requests that the Colorado DMV examine or reexamine a driver may come from:

    • law enforcement personnel
    • courts; this usually occurs after a court determines that a person is not mentally competent
    • physicians or optometrists, or
    • close relatives—including a spouse, parent, or child. The request must include the reason for the re-exam or medical requirement. The person requesting must also include his or her full name, address and relationship to the driver. Such requests are not kept confidential; drivers are entitled to a copy of the request by paying a fee of $2.20.
    • Reporting Requirements for Doctors
      Colorado physicians are encouraged, but not required, to report to the DMV patients’ conditions that may cause a lapse of consciousness, seizures, or other medical conditions that may affect the ability to drive safely.


I would like to think this a decision I will voluntarily make. The regulatory decision is based on the measurement and observation of physical performance. These measurements are quite understandable, but they really do not get to the core of safe driving performance. I consider these to be reaction time, situational awareness, ability to concentrate, temperament, and decision making.

Here is my self-evaluation for my performance in these areas:

        • Reaction Time – I feel pretty confident about this as it gets regularly and involuntarily tested almost every time I drive. A typical example is dodging a pothole or foreign object on the road. There is no time to think; I just use muscle memory and pattern recognition to avoid the hazard. More significantly is collision avoidance due to lane intrusion or other driver error. I actually surprise myself sometimes when I respond by taking action first and thinking later. I do not feel much degradation in my reaction time.
        • Situational Awareness – I have a lot of experience in this area as I have driven coast-to-coast and border-to-border several times. I have driven in half a dozen countries through all kinds of weather. I learned to constantly scan the highway around me and be aware of other drivers and highway conditions. I try to anticipate unusual activity and be aware of impending trouble before it happens. I particularly observe the behavior of other drivers; specifically, I am looking for signs of impairment or loss of control. This leads to the next skill.
        • Concentration – The ability to have sustained concentration is more difficult than most people think. Try to think about nothing but how you are driving. I bet you cannot sustain this for even two minutes. One of the primary skills of a race car driver is to concentrate intently and continuously on driving.
        • Driving can become very routine, and our thoughts drift away until something occurs to focus us again. Concentration is a skill area which I have to constantly practice. I can sense some age degradation in this skill. I am not adverse to asking a passenger to please not talk to me, and I also turn off the radio so I have minimal distraction to my driving performance. This is particularly necessary for me when in traffic or night driving.
        • Temperament -The guy in the left lane talking on his cell phone makes a sudden pull to the right in front of me forcing me to jump on the brakes. Idiot! I think it is time – and it is appropriate – to blow the horn and give him the one finger salute.
        • OK, I don’t do that anymore because letting my emotions dominate my actions causes me to lose situational awareness, which degrades my reaction time. Instead, I now think of this driver as a road hazard to be avoided and remove myself from his presence. I do not want to get even; I want to get safely away from the hazard.
        • Decision Making – I am driving down the road searching for a business. Up ahead is a new detour. Should I take it, or go ahead in my current direction? There are only a few seconds to decide. This is a skill where I have degradation. I need more time to evaluate the situation and execute a response. My choice is to not make a split-second decision, but rather find a quiet place to pull over to study the problem and then make a decision. Taking a few more minutes to safely make a decision could save a trip to the hospital.

So Where Do I Think I Stand?

I got my driver’s license in 1955 in upstate New York. My first car was a hot rod 1940 Ford coupe. Since then I have driven high performance cars, civilian and military vehicles in many countries through all kinds of weather and road conditions including some very high speed driving. I am proud to say I have yet to bend a fender. Were there close calls (you bet!), but by skill or just plain luck, nothing bad has happened. So I feel reasonably confident about my current driving ability, but I need to keep self-evaluating it. I wanted my life to end making love to Marilyn Monroe and have an elephant step on my ass. I do not want it to end getting mangled in a vehicle accident. I hope I have enough sense to let off the gas pedal and stop driving when I can no longer safely do it.

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