Aging: Nerves and the Driving Test

“…you can do everything else right, but if you commit any one of eight critical errors … the test is over and you flunk on the spot.”

 Last April I posted a blog about seniors, their automobiles and their driver’s licenses. I wrote, in part, “…to a certain group of seniors, a car is not a car. It is not a physical object. That group includes all the people who have reason to believe the DMV may revoke their driving privileges…

“To them, their car is a concept, an abstraction that is crucial to their daily existence. A car is independence. A car is freedom. A car means being able to go places to buy groceries or keep dental appointments or see a movie or play bridge or golf or visit a friend. It means that, if the medical need arises, people can transport themselves or others to urgi-care or even to the ER. And at the frivolous end of the spectrum, it means that when, at the last minute, Mrs. R. realizes she’s out of oregano for an entrée, she can, spur of the moment, run out and get some.”

I was rather passionate about the subject because a friend ours, whose husband is virtually incapacitated, had just had her renewal denied by the DMV. Judging from what we heard about her driving test, the denial was totally justified.

All of that was somewhat theoretical last April, but months later, theory turned into reality when the DMV said my license was up for renewal by January 2, my eighty-first birthday.   Instantly I began worrying. Because of a vision problem in one eye, I knew I might have to take a behind-the-wheel driving test instead of just a written test.

I had done this once before, five years ago, and passed, but not without trepidation. It was a dark and stormy night — no kidding, it really was! The time Bangawwas about 4:45 p.m. on one of the shortest days of the years, and it was gloomy and hugely raining, The examiner hopped in my car and, after some preliminaries, off we went onto the rain-slickened thruway.

“Turn right and get on the freeway,” he said.

Mind you, it is rush hour on the last work day before Christmas.   The freeway was absolutely jammed. I was about to enter traffic when a guy on the freeway says, “Oh no you won’t!” and tried to head me off.

“Yikes!” the examiner says, but eventually I get on. I figured I had flunked the test right there, but no, we drive on and I pass.

So now I was up for renewal again with this near miss still dominating my memory. On the appointed day I go to the DMV and pass the written test with flying colors. But because of my squirrely right eye I flunk the vision test. Fortunately I have a DMV form from my ophthalmologist certifying that in spite of my handicap, I can see quite well enough to drive.

The DMV procedures say if you have taken a vision driving test, which I had five years earlier, you don’t have to repeat it. The woman at the window will have none of that…”You’re legally blind in your right eye. Take the driving test.”

“But the procedures say…”

“Take the driving test.”

So I do. The examiner turns out to be the same guy I had five years ago. He’s older and actually a cool guy. I’ve been sweating this. If you are a regular reader, you know Mrs. R. has been in an out of the hospital and a skilled nursing facility much of the time since Thanksgiving. For the time being, she can’t drive.   If I flunk, I can’t drive to visit her, to take her to appointments, to … well to do anything.

Unlike the conditions on my earlier test, it’s a sunny afternoon. “Turn right and get on the freeway,” the examiner says. I do so.

“Move to the left one lane.” I signal. Then I do my best to check my blind spot, which is difficult because of all the arthritis in my upper body. Apparently there was no one in that lane because we move over without hearing the crash of metal on metal.

A while later he says, “Get in the right lane and pull off the freeway.”

After a while on a quiet surface street, he tells me to pull over, park, and then demonstrate I can back up in a straight line without hitting the curb.   You actually get three chances to do this, but I succeed on the first.

Throughout the entire drive I am conscious that you can do everything else right, but if you commit any one of eight critical errors — make an unsafe lane change, fail to yield to vehicles or pedestrians, fail to make a complete stop, etc. — the test is over and you flunk on the spot. I normally wouldn’t do any of that, but when you’re nervous you do odd things.

We get back to the DMV and I think the test is over, but not so. In the parking lot he tells me to get into the outgoing lane. I turn right and do so.

“That was a right turn,” he says. “You didn’t put on your turn signal.” We come to a stop and the examiner still doesn’t tell me if I passed but instead launches into a lecture on checking blind spots. Apparently he thinks this is what pedagogues call a “teachable moment.”

“Well you passed,” he says at last. Given his tone of voice, he might have added “but I have no idea how you did.”

We get out of the car. “Follow me inside,” he says. The place is mobbed and the lines are out the door, so I figure I’m in for at least a half-hour wait in line. But the examiner marches me past the crowd. Then, gesturing occasionally at me, he has a few words with the guy behind the counter, who will approve my exam score.   I really couldn’t hear what they said, but suddenly the guy behind the counter smiles, looks over and points at me.  Instantly I am first in line. It was a terrific way to end several months of worry.

Dave Riley

About Dave Riley

Growing Old Isn’t For Sissies is about aging. It’s stories of how some older people achieve remarkable successes, how some people make the lives of others better, and how all seniors have hurdles to face — maladies, loss of loved ones and more.