My dear and sweet Aunt Addie was fearless on the 5.
That was Interstate 5, part of the route from her home in Los Angeles to Imperial Beach, nestled in the southwestern-most corner of California just south of San Diego. That’s where her sister, my Aunt Eva, lived.
Aunt Addie would visit Aunt Eva a couple times a year, less frequently as she got older.
She would prop a pillow in the driver’s seat to boost her 4-foot-10-inch frame high enough to see through the steering wheel of her full-sized sedan.
She would maneuver into the freeway’s fast lane, where she would stay all 138 miles to Aunt Eva’s house, regardless of speed, traffic or irate Southern California drivers honking their horns and flipping her off.
She did this well into her 80s. And when she did, I’d hold my breath.
She always arrived and returned home safely. No accidents. No tickets. No change in her routine. She was the iconic little old lady — just not from Pasadena.
I thought about Aunt Addie as I read committee testimony on a bill from State Sen. John Harms that would require those 80 and older to take a cognitive test to renew a driver’s license. Anyone who fails at cognition would have to take the standard written exam to get a license. Opinion on his proposal has been split.
I “encouraged” Aunt Addie to stay off the freeways, presenting the logic that all the other drivers out there were indeed crazy. I gently, vaguely hinted, too, that perhaps she wasn’t the driver she used to be.
My aunt was a graduate of USC and an outstanding teacher for many years. She was well-read, bright and articulate. She was also stubborn and fiercely independent.
And she scared the six-lane bejeebers out of me when she would get behind the wheel and head south, or anywhere for that matter, in Los Angeles traffic.
Still, she helped me understand some reactions to LB 351. Older drivers, faced with the prospect of losing what in some cases is their sense of freedom or independence, will ask why.
That said, the answers make sense, too.
Certainly, no one has a “right” to drive. Being on the road means you are exercising an earned and maintained individual privilege.
It’s a communal privilege with grave responsibilities, too, as thousands of other drivers are exercising theirs at the same time on the same roads.
A requirement that truly boosts safety is hard to oppose. Whether LB 351 does that, if it’s approved, remains to be seen. Any driver should welcome something that makes all of us safer on the road.
Nor would LB 351 automatically deny a license but, rather, would require further testing. Nebraska law currently requires the 72-and-older crowd to renew in person. Anyone deemed as an unsafe driver may be required to go through more testing. The Harms bill would up the ante on that process.
Of course, in places where there is little or no public transportation — most places in Nebraska — the specter of losing one’s wheels can be frightening.
Not everyone has a relative or even a friend to broach the subject of when it’s time to hang up the key fob. A doctor can be helpful, but many times the decision to stop driving isn’t a slam dunk.
Plus, if you’re dealing with your own Aunt Addie, giving up the driver’s seat is a tough sell.
What Harms has done is start a discussion that may prove uncomfortable and difficult: When is it time to stop driving? Who should decide? Based on what? It’s a conversation worth having.
Aunt Addie, in the beginning stages of Parkinson’s, eventually quit driving to San Diego and then altogether. She lived another five years or so, near Aunt Eva.
I have no idea after she got out from behind the wheel if the 5 was any safer. But I was relieved my beloved Aunt Addie was.