Sunday, 18 October 2009

Test drive turns into a cliffhanger

Our health becomes more important with each passing decade. As children we rarely give it a thought, except for the odd bout of chickenpox and a bit of tonsillitis. By the time we’ve reached our 20s and 30s, we usually manage to avoid illness despite guzzling copious amounts of alcohol, ingesting illegal substances and stuffing our faces with rich foods. This we tend to work off with conscientious jogging and visits to the gym.

But time waits for no man and eventually it catches up with all of us. It starts with twinges in our backs, usually around 45 seconds after blowing out the last candle on our 40th birthday cake. Gradually the decay spreads to our knees and then our eyes begin to fail, as we gradually end up holding books and newspapers so far from our faces we eventually run out of arms and end up having to buy reading glasses.

And so it gets worse. And yet, oddly enough, if you’re willing to declare to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency that you’re still fit to drive, you can carry on causing mayhem and havoc on the Queen’s Highway well into your 80s and 90s; or until the long arm of the law finally catches up with you once you’ve mown down a group of pedestrians waiting at a bus stop or flattened a couple of kids on a zebra crossing.

An example of this geriatric driving was reported in the weekend newspapers when an elderly lady driver clearly lost her basic motor skills and managed to drive her car over a cliff in spectacular fashion.

The disabled woman in her 80s had just had her car adapted from pedal to hand-operated controls. She obviously thought it would be a good idea to get in a bit of practice in before going out on the road. This she did by driving around the car park of the Cliffhanger Cafe, in Highcliffe, Dorset.

Now call me an old cynic, but I would have thought the words 'Cliffhanger' and 'Highcliffe' would have been a handy warning that the place might be less-than-ideal for practising driving a car fitted with completely new controls that you'd never used before.

The woman tried to pull into a disabled parking bay facing out to sea, but instead of coming to a stop, the car lunged forwards, crashed through a park bench, sailed through the air and toppled over the cliff’s edge, before rolling down a steep slope and eventually coming to a halt in a patch of gorse.

Miraculously the woman escaped unscathed and sustained only a few scratches from some brambles that scratched her as some passers by dragged her from the car. She was taken home to recover with a cup of tea, which was probably stirred almost as much as she was shaken.


  1. I can understand why people don't want to give up their cars, especially with increasing infirmity. Perhaps they might be less afraid to if public transport was better and there was a better understanding of travel needs of the elderly and disabled. I'm glad this woman was ok. I do think there should be a closer watch kept on the safety of older drivers as they may not be the best judges of their own capabilities.

  2. I worry about my parents. They don't notice their eyesight deteriorating or their reactions slowing down. It's a hard thing to accept. I think the free bus passes for pensioners help but if you live out in the sticks with one bus a week, it must be a wrench to give up your car.

  3. We've just been through this with my 94 year old father TM. Hes been accident free all these years, even bought a brand new car when he was 89 ! His driving licence expired in May but it was only recently that he allowed us to sell it for him.

    Have a good night


  4. Remember old age can last a long time.
    And very few seem to advocate removing the driving licence from the young as they kill each other with abandon.
    Most old people self censor themselves - eg they do not drive at night or during rush hour.
    Yet when they have an accident there are knee jerk calls for restrictions .
    Why do you not quote a few statistics

  5. It's a serious point. I need to do some more research. The problem with older drivers is that the deterioration is gradual and the elderly driver isn't always aware of when it's time to throw the towel in. I think the EU is considering retesting at 70 and then at two year intervals after that. It seems unfair and daunting for the elderly. It's a tough one and I can see both sides of the argument.

  6. In some enlightened place in the world - I forget where - they grant licences to the elderly to drive during the day only and within, say, 5 or 10 miles of their homes. This just grants that little bit of independence, especially where there is a lack of public transport and a lack of other support.
    Clangie from Perth

  7. You should try living in Irish Republic TM, when we first came here, apart from they don't feel the need to indicate when turning left or right, or just stopping in front of you, the older drivers, ah, what fun they are, out yesterday, I came across many of the Sunday older drivers, they could pull in to let you pass, that seems beyond them, either by design or lets say age.

    One day, not long after arriving in Ireland, I am driving home, I am looking at a car hurtling towards me, there was no driver in this ancient car, I pulled as far as I could into the grass verge, shut my eyes, and hoped, ah, shutting my eyes did the trick, the car missed me.

    I mentioned this incident to my neighbour later on, she said, oh that's Mr so and so from up the lane, he drives fast, but there was nobody in the car I protested, oh yes there was said she, he is a very small man, his head does not come up to the steering wheel, how old is he I asked, nearly 90 said she.

    Now and again I would see this car hurtling towards me, or even worse, behind me, nearly bumper to bumper, I could never ever see his head, he eventually left this earth, making it a safer place I would say.

    Don't get me going about the many roundabouts they are now placed everywhere in Ireland, they are not used to them, and don't I know it.

  8. The problem with elderly drivers is that with the deterioration in reflexes there can also come dementia/confusion etc and the inability to realise that things have changed. I have seen this so many times. Elderly drivers who 'never drive anywhere but to the shop' forget what they are doing and end up on the wrong carriageway of the motorway! I have seen, first hand, the carnage this causes.

    THe reduction in reaction times and the inability to accept and cope with change means that they fail to compensate for the speed of traffic on the roads today as well.

    However, age is not the only factor! It goes to mental satus. Many younger people should not be allowed on the roads either!

    We are watching my mother in law at the moment. She does not drive anywhere she does not know and if they change the road layout she stops driving there! Thankfully she can afford a taxi if she needs one. Not everyone is that fortunate! I would like to see everyone being retested every few years regardless of age and mental status but more so when they are elderly and infirm!

  9. 'Tis a particular problem when someone is beginning to develop dementia. Mostly, but not exclusively, older people.

    Dangerous not only because the person is losing the cognitive ability to cope with driving, but then also compounded by the person often not recognising that they are impaired, or being willing and to accept it when the situation is clear to others.

    I used to work with people with dementia and that could be the family's worst nightmare - Gran'pa drives off into the sunset causing carnage. And if Gran'pa doesn't have insight into his own illness, then he gets riled when the family resorts to hiding the car keys.

    Fraught times for all that can be.

  10. I've been popping back here to read comments. It's an interesting discussion. I think I may agree with the Nurse that everyone should have to submit to retesting at intervals. We are concerned with the risks associated with relatively small numbers of people dying of swine flu but have grown to accept the much larger numbers who die on the roads each year, many of whom are children and young adults.

  11. I cannot believe what I am reading here. What a bunch of patronising ageist bigots you are! Yes, some elderly people are bad drivers and their driving has deteriorated - but there are lots of medical conditions that afflict people of all ages which affect driving skills. Yes, reflexes slow down - but some people have such fast reflexes that even when they are elderly, they will still outperform many younger people.

    Compare two elderly ladies I knew - one was still a better driver than I bet most of you posters are even in her eighties - another,it is true, had an accident of the type described here - but she was always an appalling driver. A friend of mine was killed in a car crash by a drunken driver in his 30s, whose friends, incidentally, knew he was drunk when he drove off from the office party and did nothing to stop him - I can't tell you what I would like to do to them. Frankly, I think they are more culpable than the driver. However, I am certain that if you really want to reduce the accident rate, you couldn't do better than not allowing people to drive till they are at least 30, possibly 40 and better still, 50. That would do it. Or, since the statistics suggest that women are safer drivers than men, ban all men drivers. Anyone up for that? No, I thought not.

    PLEASE - look at people as people and don't just condemn one large group out of hand just on the basis of the behaviour/illnesses of the few. DON'T GENERALISE!

    Gosh, I feel better now I've got that off my chest.

  12. Calm down, Kirsten. It's only a joke by me, Michael Winner!!!

    Seriously, though, I'm getting worried about my dad and I'm afraid it will take an accident for him to hand in his licence. I know there are awful drivers of all ages, but I do think elderly drivers are going to be targeted by the EU so don't be surprised when it happens.

    Now, to cheer you up can I send you some roly poly treacle pudding through the post?

  13. Only if it's been made by Mrs TM. Don't you send your hosptial cast-offs to me or I'll start telling you what I had for lunch. (Oh I'm such a bitch!)

    Also seriously though - I went through the same problems with another elderly relative who had had a severe stroke and didn't want to give up driving. But, speaking as one who was once married to an actuary and studied to be an actuary herself for a time, my bet is that the EU targetting the elderly is like most political campaigns - not based on either statistics or logic. It just makes them look as though they are doing something by picking on the easiest target. Hence the rant!

  14. I was once told the definition of an actuary: Someone who finds accountancy a little too exciting.

  15. Or how about this one - a computer is an actuary with a heart. From personal experience I cna tell you ... that's not as funny as it might sound.

  16. "It starts with twinges in our backs, usually around 45 seconds after blowing out the last candle on our 40th birthday cake."

    Sad, but true. My mother warned me but as she's something of a hypochondriac I took it with a pinch of salt. A few years in, I can already sense that my reaction times (or my complaining muscles) are slightly slower and my concentration...Damn! What was I saying?