We old people need our cars, but are we fit to drive them - and who will make sure of it?
The news of a horrendous accident in which an aged driver mounted the pavement and killed a young mother raises many questions that call for immediate attention. Does increasing age mean your driving skills deteriorate? Who's checking us out? What should be done?
I am in my 80s and I drive a car virtually every day. I am quite a different driver today from the one I was when younger. That's because I am a different person. There are some gains here - I am in less of a hurry than I used to be, less inclined to rush around the world in pursuits I have long since given up.
I am more thoughtful and considerate. The frantic egocentricity of youth has mellowed into a more benign view of humanity.
But I am also more aware of my limitations. I need glasses and hearing aids, my spatial judgment is less keen. This means that parking my Mini Cooper takes longer, and determining the exact distance between parked cars on the narrow streets of north London requires real concentration. However, I am certainly not caught up in the macho rivalries that beset some motorists. Road rage is not an affliction of the over-70s. I have no problem holding back and conceding right of way, even when the rules are in my favour.
There are, though, matters that concern me. My father drove his large Rover into his 87th year: he was a small man in a big car driving down the middle of his road. He was safe, of course, but those irate drivers stacking up behind him were likely to lose their cool and make a dangerous attempt to overtake. I knew, then, that driving habits change as you grow older. Account must be taken of these changes, both by individuals and those whose responsibility it should be to monitor our driving skills.
My current dilemma is this: do I embark for Christmas by heaping all my wrapped presents into the back of the car and driving well over a hundred miles to join my family?
Or do I heave bulky parcels on to the train and scramble around to find a taxi at the other end? And if it's raining? And there's a long taxi queue?
Or do I send cheques to everyone and stay put? The last, perhaps you'll agree, is not really an option. A long, unhurried drive has its attractions. First, there is the sheer pleasure of driving. I love my car and though I haven't mastered all its hi-tech gizmos, I know its foibles and have full measure of its capacity. Throughout the drive there'll be lots of good programmes on the radio, a load of Christmas music to play.
But my age will tell. I know that I will tire faster than I used to. If the weather is bad, I will find sleet and snowstorms daunting, where once I found them exciting. I am familiar with the route but my memory plays tricks. I have been known to telephone for help having taken the wrong slip road and ended up in an unfamiliar place.
Getting old doesn't mean driving deteriorates, but it changes. It should be monitored. So I am surprised that I haven't been asked to take a further test in the past decade. We old people - especially those in rural areas where bus services are being reduced and shops may be far away - need our cars. Isolation is one of the blights of old age. But while our cars are a blessed liberation from being house-bound, someone needs to make sure we are fit to drive them. Our children will be pleased if we are. Not to mention pedestrians.