‘Bloody old fool’: Dealing with ageing drivers goes deeper
HE LOOKED first at the yellowing map, then out the car window at the position of the sun which was belting down on the windscreen and his weathered brow, illuminating a crown of silver hairs.
This was Plan B after the GPS on the dash, which hadn't been updated since someone was rude enough to build a new tunnel in Brisbane, became stuck on a loop of "re-routing" and was promptly switched off.
The car's two occupants were also yet to figure out how to bring up Google Maps on the smart phone which had only recently replaced the early 2000s Nokia model they shared.
After a few quick calculations, the retired pilot in the driver's seat confidently slipped the map back into the glove box and headed off on his chosen course, leaving two younger members of the family shaking their heads and wandering back into the CBD apartment block hoping for the best.
Twenty minutes later however, a text message (complete with auto-correct doozies and a misinterpreted emoji) came through to confirm the country couple had arrived at their intended destination - the 50th wedding anniversary celebration of dear friends a few suburbs over - on time and without any detours.
It shouldn't have been surprising.
This was a man who had landed planes in backyards, beaches and weather extremes long before the built-in bells and whistles of modern navigation technology and long after supposedly superior systems, or an engine, failed.
He could tell you when a storm was coming, even when the sky was still blue and there was barely a breeze.
He would shake his head and mutter "bloody old fools" at elderly drivers who he declared were a menace on the road.
Never mind he was no spring chicken himself. It didn't seem out of line when he was still known for precision reverse parking, first time, every time and nearly always the family's designated driver on interstate road trips thanks to a sound history of getting everyone safely from A to B.
Then, almost overnight, something shifted.
Lightning-fast reflexes had given way to risk-taking.
Ageing ears, already badly damaged by pilot training in the days before safety equipment was introduced, could no longer hear the ticking of an indicator which had been erroneously left on for some time after the turn.
Giving way seemed to have somehow become optional and right of way, was, well, a right, even when the road rules suggested otherwise.
No amount of gentle coaxing or full-blown foot-stomping frustration from family members could encourage a change in driving habits.
Nor could anyone understand why this man, who had generously and graciously given time to foster children and community organisations and would never forgive himself if he caused harm to someone else, was so stubborn in his refusal to give up something which risked doing just that.
No sign of logic or common sense from someone who had never been short of either.
A deeper dig however revealed these keys didn't just represent independence - they were the final frontier in retaining self-worth which had been compromised by three falls and an hour-long battle with a pair of shoes which had led to slippers being worn to the supermarket.
Finally, after a couple of incidents which thankfully caused no physical harm to anyone, he quietly slipped into the passenger seat with greater frequency and stopped suggesting trips out of town as the couple slowly steered towards an inevitable conclusion.
In an area like the Fraser Coast, where police are being increasingly called to multiple accidents a day involving elderly drivers, making the roads safer for our community is going to require a community effort.
Yes, we're living longer but on local roads we're reminded daily why that doesn't necessarily mean we should also be driving for longer.
And anyone who understands how quickly things can decline knows there's no point in leaving it to doctors when there's too long between visits.
One only needs to look around to see we aren't getting the messaging right.
Stubbornness is not the only driving force.
These drivers are understandably indignant about being labelled a menace on the roads at a time when the greatest risk to safety seems to be our inability to detach ourselves from our phones.
How dare the generation of drivers most likely to risk lives for the sake of a text, being the fastest or getting behind the wheel after too many drinks, think they have the right to be so vocal about the decisions of people with decades more experience?
If we want to get more high-risk elderly drivers off our roads, we need a more effective strategy which reduces road trauma without being so traumatic.
There are endless road awareness campaigns targeting young people and support services which teach us how to talk to them and give them a 'safe space' to share their feelings.
We need to invest the same time and energy into the demographic which makes up more than 30 per cent of our population.
Let's start by remembering that before they became the 'bloody old fools' on our roads, they were completely capable, keen contributors to our community (and still can be away from the wheel), not yet betrayed by the curses of ageing which are coming for all of us.
Business owners, war heroes … and pilots who didn't need a smart phone to navigate congested city roads.
•Have you handed in your licence voluntarily or received some sound advice about speaking to loved ones which might help others? We'd love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org