Doing ninety

I love it when a plan comes together... xxxx

WAWAWAWAWAWAWAWA!!!!!! The sound of a Ford Ka engine bouncing off the rev limiter as we drift down the road at 4mph, clutch thankfully in, accelerator pressed flat to the floor as the lady behind the wheel tries to process the information that, despite pressing harder and harder on the pedal, the engine is screaming and car isn’t slowing.

I sit in the back of the car cringing as her husband tries to placate her whilst attempting to persuade her to lift her foot off and press the middle pedal instead. “What’s happening?” she continues to ask before eventually pulling up the handbrake, the car grinding to a gentle halt. Once we’re stopped she feels able to lift her foot from the “brake” and the revs die back to tickover. That’s a promising sale lost there and then, there’s no way this will be anything other than the car’s fault. Sure enough even when order has been resumed she’s genuinely baffled as to “why the car did that”.

It’s pretty obvious what’s happened here, unfamiliar car, pedals offset very slightly to the left compared with her normal car, and despite the fact that I’d made absolutely sure she was happy with all the controls before climbing into the back (for self preservation reasons never mind making sure the customer feels happy), as she’d let the handbrake off and we’d started to roll down the hill she’d gone for what she thought was the brake to check the speed, hit the accelerator, and when the car didn’t slow and the revs shot up she’d been unable to process the information quickly and just pressed down harder and harder.

Which leaves me with one obvious thought. Imagine what would have happened if we’d been in an automatic? Basically the car would have simply continued to accelerate quickly until either her husband had talked her into lifting her foot or we’d reached something solid enough to stop us from whatever speed we’d reached.

Now it may not surprise you to know that this was a lady “of a certain age”. At which point I will immediately be accused by some of being “ageist”. Which I’m certainly not, I’ll sell cars to anyone! And on a more serious note, I’ve had test drives with many an elderly pensioner (I live in an area popular with people “of a certain age”) who, sure, have been slow and methodical, but have been perfectly safe, perfectly aware of their limits and perfectly aware of what they’re doing and what is going on around them. I had one lady well into her eighties who turned up with a cushion so she could see over the steering wheel, rather worryingly. Funnily enough she was buying a Ka too, an earlier one, and I approached the test drive with more than a degree of trepidation. But she asked that we stayed off of fast roads and she handled the car slowly but perfectly safely, I felt quite happy to accompay her.

On the other hand an elderly gentleman with a very battle-scarred Corsa was an absolute liability on the road, unaware of other vehicle movements around us or hazards approaching, focussed purely on the ten feet of road in front of the car only. At one point he selected fourth instead of second, stalled the car, and didn’t notice! We were rolling downhill at the time and, dimly aware of the lack of response to the thottle, dipped the clutch, shoved the gear lever round a bit, found second and let the clutch out harshly bump starting the car without even knowing it had stopped! That was a very short and very frightening drive, culminating in slotting third whilst waiting to turn right onto our dealer forecourt. Fearing that we were about to lurch across oncoming traffic and stall broadside on to an oncoming truck I politely informed him that I thought he might be in third. No response, just the grim death-stare at oncoming traffic. I pointed the error out again. Nothing. Self preservation kicked in and I reached down and slotted it out of third and into first. Seconds later we stuttered across the road and onto the forecourt intact. Phew.

So the problem is that there is no precise point at which one’s faculties fade to the point of genuine motoring danger. Some people become a real liability in their seventies, others are still driving safely, slowly and carefully maybe, no problem with that, but safely, into their nineties. So it would be ridiculous and quite wrong to impose a driving age limit. But given that, if we live long enough, everyone’s abilities will diminish with age, surely it does make sense to regularly test our more senior citizens, perhaps from 75 upwards, just to check? Not a full blown re-test, just a quick once round the block confirmation that they’ve “still got what it takes”.

Because based on personal and up close experience, some of them, no doubt many of them in fact, sadly simply no longer possess the required mental agility to be on the road in the company of you, me, our friends and our families. And equally clearly they’re not going to give up driving on their own.

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2 Responses to “Doing ninety”

  1. Rob C Says:

    I know just what you mean, My mother is 77 now and,frankly, I’m not getting in her car again.I rang and spoke to her doctor who ,after hearing my concerns, said ” I can’t sign her unfit to drive if she tells me she can still drive”!!

    The same doctor was strangely reticent about the idea of actually getting in the car 🙂

    • charliecroker Says:

      Rob, I did a test drive yesterday with a gentleman yesterday who is 87. And he was an excellent driver, drove better than some people I’ve experienced who’ve been half his age.

      But a couple of days after I wrote this blog entry there was a report in our local paper about an elderly lady who’d “lost control” and actually cart wheeled her car end over end. In a quiet residential area in a 30mph limit (although an area where you’d struggle to get much above 15mph due to the nature of the road) and past a (fortunately school holiday empty) school. The car was an automatic.

      No prizes for figuring out how she managed to pick up so much speed that she got the car to actually flip end over end. Truly frightening and thank goodness school wasn’t turning out!

      Which brings us back to the same point, elderly people HAVE to be tested to see if they can still do it, and can cope if things take an unexpected turn.

      I’m staggered that there is no legal mechanism in place to cope with what is a real potential menace.

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