Gearing Down

When it’s time to put on the brakes — for good.

September 24, 2021 | | Over the Next Hill

With the isolation of Covid, we hope, almost behind us, and the promise of renewed activities ahead, let’s talk about driving. It’s a necessary activity for many of us in Headwaters, but as we age, diminishing confidence in our “motor skills” often makes us nervous about getting behind the wheel, especially if we’ve grown out of practice during the pandemic.

It’s true seniors may not be the only ones with driving-related worries. According to an informal survey by Terry O’Reilly, Mulmur-based author, podcaster and well-loved host of CBC Radio’s Under the Influence, the book most often stolen from Canadian libraries is neither a classic nor hockey-related, but The Driver’s Handbook. Go figure.

Nevertheless, as seniors we begin to worry our slower reflexes won’t allow us to react quickly enough in an emergency.

Then we notice changes in our vision. At night the intensity of both car and truck headlights is exaggerated, and halos begin to appear around streetlights and oncoming headlights. These distractions are unnerving and often lead to a decision to confine night driving to local, familiar routes, or to eliminate it entirely.

Likewise, hearing loss reduces our ability to distinguish among general traffic sounds, making it hard to determine what direction high-pitched sounds such as sirens are coming from.

As for those pesky traffic circles – am I navigating them correctly?

Each limiting factor brings us closer to the decision to put on the brakes – for good.

Here in Ontario we have a licence renewal process for all drivers 80 and older. Though the program aims to keep us driving for as long as we safely can, at 80 and every two years thereafter, seniors must take a vision test, undergo a driver record review, participate in a group education session, and complete two in-class screening assignments. In addition, a road test or submission of medical information from your doctor may be required.

And this last bit is tricky. Since July 2018, it has been mandatory for some members of the medical profession to report conditions that would make it dangerous for a person to continue getting behind the wheel. As a result, some seniors are steering clear of their medical advisers to avoid the possibility of losing their driver’s licence.

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  • And finally, there’s the expense. I have friends who just downsized from a two- to a one-car family. Though the decision wasn’t made lightly, when the dollars were totted up (lease costs, gas, repairs, maintenance, winter tires, insurance, licence plates, car washes), selling one car saved the couple a little more than $1,000 a month.

    Perhaps it’s time to explore driving alternatives.

    In response to an increasing need for public transportation in Caledon’s growing communities, particularly among seniors and youth, the town has recently launched two local bus lines, one in Southfields Village and one in Bolton. Caledon council has also asked the Ontario government to secure the location of a future Go Transit rail site north of Bolton to serve as a transit hub and connect town residents to the GTA.

    Orangeville council is also planning to expand its public transit routes. And with the help of provincial money, Grey County recently launched Monday to Friday transit service between Dundalk and Orangeville via Shelburne. In addition, community service organizations in Dufferin, Wellington and Caledon offer varying levels of personalized transportation for people who require it.

    Caledon Community Services, for example, operates buses, passenger vans and cars driven by dedicated staff and volunteers. For a nominal fee a vehicle will appear at your doorstep at the allotted time, ready to transport you to a medical appointment, weekly grocery shopping or social activity. All that’s required is completion of a brief online application and you’re good to go.

    “It’s an excellent service,” said Vicki Hunter, a new resident of Caledon who, at 73, has access to a car but finds driving worrisome, especially with the increasing number of large trucks on the roads. “With the CCS service I can safely get to Bolton or Brampton for a medical appointment, or to Orangeville to check out the shops, right from my doorstep,” she said.

    And if the 400 series highways have become too challenging, we can always take the scenic route. After all, one of the perks of retirement is that we alone control our timetable. We can avoid travel altogether in bad weather, or travel during off-peak hours and stop along the way for a coffee or ice cream cone.

    Certainly the auto industry has been making impressive efforts to keep us safe, with innovations ranging from push-button parking to blind-spot and lane-changing alerts, as well as upgraded cruise control features.

    But I’m waiting for the self-driving car, preferably one powered by solar. Perhaps by the time they are in general use, even single ownership of automobiles will be a thing of the past, and we’ll be sharing our hands-free cars with neighbours.

    Transit Options

    To learn more about the availability of local public transit in your area of Headwaters, go to these websites:
    Orangeville Transit
    Grey Transit
    Caledon Transit
    Community service organizations in Headwaters also offer transportation options, which vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
    Caledon Community Services
    East Wellington Community Services
    Dufferin County Community Support Services

    About the Author More by Gail Grant

    Gail Grant is a freelance writer who lives in Palgrave.

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