Can someone be too old to drive?

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Column by Jim Clark

By Jim Clark

Thirty years ago, if I had tried to write a column like this, I would have been labeled a “young whippersnapper” or worse.

But now that I’m older and it could affect me in the not-too-distant future, it’s a question that has to be asked:

When is a person too old to drive?

I have some personal experience in this. When my mother died in 1997, my dad was 81.

When we got to Ocala, there were funeral arrangements to be made, so we got in dad’s car (at his insistence) and drove to the funeral home downtown.

If you know anything about Ocala, you know that downtown can be a maze of one-way streets. That’s where the trouble started after we got out of the funeral home.

Dad tried to make a left turn to go north on a southbound one-way street. I had to yell “no” and grab the steering wheel to stop him.

That was the first sign I had that things weren’t right.

Some time later, he got in his car and drove to Lake City. We have no connection to that area whatsoever, and he didn’t know why he went or what he was doing there. The police found him and called my son, who got him back home.

After that, we took away his keys. Eventually he went into an assisted living center, where he was well treated and stayed until his death in 2004.

This all comes to mind after the tragic death of Dr. Lou Jensen, 87, who was killed in a traffic accident just west of Williston on Monday. He reportedly did not stop at a stop sign and pulled out onto busy Alt. U.S. 27, where his car was struck by another.

You have to wonder if this tragedy could have been avoided. Is the state doing enough to make sure that elderly drivers (and I’m getting there) should still be on the road? Is it too easy to renew a driver’s license?

To be sure, none of these people in their 70s and 80s wants to give up driving. When I was 18, getting a driver’s license meant a newfound freedom, a chance to get away, even if just for a few miles. When that 18 turns into 81, I’m sure I’m not going to feel any different.

We agree, there can’t be a blanket age when we say that people are too old to drive. There are some 90-year-olds who are probably better drivers than some 30-year-olds. But there probably needs to be some weeding-out process that isn’t an assembly-line type of judgment. People should be judged as individuals, but that judgment should be in place somewhere, somehow.

We’re saddened by the loss of Dr. Jensen, who in his retirement from medicine took up another pastime and graced our area with music. We don’t want to lose any more of our fine citizens, if it can be avoided.

As a side note, one of our correspondents, Elizabeth Wilson, did a feature story on Dr. Jensen last Sept. 11. That story has been reposted on our Web site (willistonpioneer.com) under the “features” section.

Jim Clark is the editor of the Williston Pioneer Sun News. He can be reached at editor@willistonpioneer.com or at 528-3343.