GRAFTON, Mass. (AP) — An 87-year-old Connecticut man who drove the wrong way on the Massachusetts Turnpike for about 11 miles was not cited but may lose his license.
Massachusetts State Police say they got several calls about a wrong-way driver on the highway at about 11:30 p.m. Sunday.Now, see, here's the thing. The MA pike (also known as Interstate 90, you might have heard of it) is a TOLL ROAD. This guy managed to somehow get AROUND the toll and onto the highway the wrong way, and never noticed all the cars coming right at him. He was driving in the breakdown area next to the high speed lane for 11 miles and didn't notice anything was wrong. This is a sample of the daily routine here in MA...
It does bring up an unpleasant truth, something that my generation will be facing more and more as our Baby Boomer parents age into this bracket. There comes a time when it becomes genuinely unsafe for grandma or grandpa to be driving. I remember it with my own grandfather - we approached the intersection at the center of town, where there was a stop sign and had always been a stop sign, and - at the intersection of two state highways - I watched my grandfather proceed through the intersection without even slowing down.
At some point - and that point is different for every person - a combination of age and infirmities make it unsafe for someone to be on the road. Whether it's arthritis that slows down reaction time or eyesight degeneration or any number of other age-related physical issues, there comes a time when a driver can no longer adequately respond to the many stimuli and dangers we encounter as drivers. The Registry tests for vision - every 10 years in MA (we can renew online every other time, where no vision test, obviously, is required). There are no reaction tests or even peripheral vision tests (my grandfather lost his peripheral vision to a stroke, yet held a valid license when he passed in his eighties).
There are many factors at work here preventing serious reform. First is the power of the AARP - the folks that would most likely be affected by changes to how the Registry screens drivers would be the elderly. We place restrictions on the hours teens can drive and the number of passengers they can have (0 in MA from the age of 16.5 to 18), yet when it comes to your 80 year old grandmother, as long as she can squint through her half-inch thick trifocals and pass the vision test, she's good until 90. Secondly is the unpleasant fact that taking away grandpa's license means you have to make arrangements to get him to doctor's visits and the grocery store. It's an imposition, and in today's me me me society, one we frequently don't want to assume.
There's also the loss of independence, and a general reluctance to take that away from people - especially people that we know and love and have seen driving our entire lives. My father was a MA State Police officer and participated in several high-speed chases - who the hell am I to tell him he can't drive any more? My father-in-law was a long-haul truck driver - a guy who can drive a tractor hauling a 53' trailer through Chicago can handle around-town driving, right? Taking away the driver's license - especially in the suburbs and more rural communities - is an end-statement on freedom. You make that person dependent on others, which can lead to hurt feelings, angry recriminations, and general discord within a family.
It's a tough, tough choice to make - and I am not looking forward to the day I have to make it...
That is all.