When Should You Stop Driving?

February 27, 1991|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

After more than six decades of driving without an accident, Emma Eunick decided to give up her license with a clean slate.

Well, pretty clean. She had a few speeding tickets in her younger days.

"I was a very careful driver, but when I was out in the country and it was clear, there was no reason for me to poke around. I wanted to get there. And I got there," said Eunick, who will be 92 next month and lives in Timber Ridge apartments in Westminster.

She's never had an accident. When she was 80, she decided she might have one if she kept driving much longer, with her reflexes and memory not what they once were.

"I thought, 'Why should I defy fate when I could get someone to take me?' " said Eunick.

National statistics show thenumber of miles a person drives declines sharply after he or she reaches age 55, said Estella "Sandy" Spurrier, 68, of Finksburg. Spurrier teaches a safe-driving class called 55 Alive, sponsored across the country by the American Association of Retired Persons.

Statisticsalso show that in proportion to the miles they drive, seniors have more accidents than drivers 16 to 25 years old, Spurrier said. The increase is probably due to deterioration in hearing, vision, reflexes and other skills affected by aging, she said.

Unlike some seniors who resist giving up their licenses until their children, police or insurance companies insist, Eunick did it voluntarily. But that didn't make losing her independence any easier, she said.

"For me to haveto call somebody to take me to the grocery store was the hardest thing to get accustomed to," she said.

Now, she relies on the Senior Overland Service buses or her granddaughter for rides.

Although they might be more likely to have accidents, seniors have a good recordfollowing traffic laws, said John Eberhard, senior research psychologist with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The administration and the Maryland State Police are starting an extensive study of issues affecting the state's older drivers.

"Elderly drivers generally carry a higher level of traffic law compliance than any other age group. If you get to be old, you tend to comply with laws. If you don't comply with laws, you don't get to be old," Eberhard said.

Seniors who still drive say they won't give it up until they have to. The independence that a car gives them is too precious, they say.

A survey commissioned last year by the Department of Aging found that 85 percent of the county's residents over age 60 live in households with automobiles. Although transportation was a problem for a relatively small group of seniors, lack of it had the most negative effect on their satisfaction with life, the survey said.

Westminster residents of all ages can take the Shoppers Shuttle operated by Carroll Transit System, but people in other parts of the county have less bus transportation available for errands, medical appointments and other trips.

"I didn't start driving until 21 years ago," said Thelma Halligan, now 78 and living in Locust House apartments in Westminster. "My husband had a major stroke, and I knew he would never driveagain."

She took a driving class, passed the first time out, and has been driving ever since. She has, however, started limiting herself to local trips.

"My car is old, but it still goes," Halligan said of her yellow 1974 Nova. "It's got 204,000 miles driven on it, andI drove them all."

Harold Pickett, 73, also treasures his car andhas no plans to give up driving himself or all his senior friends who rely on him for rides.

"Those people we haul around would reallybe disappointed. You should see my calendar. I have four, five, six people to take to the doctor or to get their income taxes done," Pickett said. "It started with friends, then that friend told another friend."

"I wouldn't be without my car," said Atha "Betty" Slonaker, 68, who lives about a mile outside Westminster.

She often picks upher friend Elizabeth Ibex, 78, who has never driven. They have fun together, going to the senior center, the store, the hairdresser, to visit relatives or wherever they want.

Sometimes they have so much fun talking during a trip that they miss the exit they were supposed to take, Slonaker said.

Giving up her 1986 Buick Century would be hard, she said, because she would have to rely on her son, who works.

"If I'm not capable, I'll give it up, but with the stipulation that they'll be at hand to take me right where I want to go," Slonaker said.

Nobody had to pressure Felix Baker, 91, or Sydney Haynes, who won't give his age, to give up their licenses. Baker gave his license up just a few months ago, after he just got tired of it, he said.

"Too expensive," he said of the upkeep on a car. "I walk and take the bus. Store's right around the corner. I walk there."

Haynes gave up driving after an accident, even though it wasn't his fault, he said. It was about four years ago, and his car was hit by a man who ran a stoplight at Route 140 and Sullivan Road.

"We were both lucky we could walk away," Haynes said of the accident that totaled his car. "I decided the heck with it. I don't want no more of that."

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