Lapsing driver’s licenses

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Sunday, March 16, 2014


SOUR current driver’s license will expire. We won’t renew a document we’ve carried for decades now. We let our international drivers license peter out earlier. These are markers others have passed.

This rite of passage came in a question we lobbed at the man who walked in: “You are --- what?” “Your new driver, sir,” Aniceto Camposo answered. “Your son says you should not drive anymore.”

Our car keys were gently taken away from us. Our kids hired Aniceto. “The difference between a good and bad driver is 40 years too many on the road,” they explained.

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Families and lawmakers agonize when to take away lolo’s car keys.

Studies conclude that drivers in their 60s are among the safest, Economist reports. Drivers over 70 form a fraction of the population but rack up 17 percent of pedestrian deaths. From 80s onward, death rates were nine times greater.

“Seventy is the sum of our years,” the Psalmist wrote. “Eighty if we are strong.” But taking hands off the wheel, for good, took time to sink in. After all, we drove five kids to grade school through clogged Manila traffic. In Bangkok, we taught them how to drive. And we ferried them to colleges in the US.

At a Mongolia despedida party for Asian journalists “airag”–made from fermented mare’s milk--flowed freely. “Don’t worry,” our guide winked. “I’ll bring you to the airport."

At seven he was at the door of our “ger” or Mongolian tent home with a hangover. He thrust the car keys to me, sayng: “I drive and we’ll end in the Tuul river, You drive with an expired international drivers license, and catch your flight.” We drove.

As we entered the highway, a panaroma of one of the least densely populated countries, appeared. There are over 2.8 million Mongolians thinly spread over 1.5 million square kilometers. Barbara Streisend’s song from the 1970 film resonated: “On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever.” We made it to Bangkok.

More youngsters today have ignition keys than our generation did. “Teenagers gain experience and put risky behavior behind them,” the Economist adds.

With age, the brain begins to shrink and blood flow slackens. Ability to process thoughts-—“cognitive function” is the medical term—slows. “Senior moments” multiply: tendency to misplace things, a word on the tip of the tongue which never comes.

Cognitive skills allow one to steer smoothly or ease in between fast-moving cars. Youngsters, like our grand-daughter, who just graduated from University of California, can hit brakes within “0.7 second for something expected to 1.5 seconds for a total surprise.” Not her Lolo.

Three factors interlock in accidents involving elderly drivers: (a) poor judgement, notably, when turning across oncoming traffic (b) drifting out of lane; and (c) inability to react fast to surprises. “It takes 8,460 bolts to assemble a car---and one nut to scatter them all over the road.”

There are no clear-cut guidelines when to stow your licenses. Ask your doctor. Many in the grey mop crowd are on “maintenance medication” for chronic ailments. Some drugs have ingredients that further dull motor skills.

“Families can best judge it's time for an older driver to slide out from behind the wheel, says University of Massachusetts gerontology professor Elizabeth Dugan. “But many wait until an accident.”

Now a sophomore at UCLA in Los Angeles, our grandson Adrian is applying for his first driver’s license. In Cebu, his lolo will paste up his last license as a souvenir. Now, if we can only remember where we stashed hat darned scrapbook…

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 16, 2014.

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