DRIVERS LISCENCES, LAPSED AND NEW

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DRIVERS LISCENCES, LAPSED AND NEW

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mercado-thumbSoon, our current  driver’s license will lapse. We won’t renew a document we’ve had, in our wallet,  for decades now.. Earlier, we let our international drivers license also peter out. That’s a marker others before us have  trod.

We didn’t  recogonize it then. But  this last phase in a rite of passage came in form of a question we lobbed to the cheerful man who walked in: “You  are — what?” “Your new driver, sir,” Aniceto Camposo answered.. “Your son says you should not drive anymore. ”

We did  not   give up our car keys. They were gently taken away from us. Our children hired Aniceto. “The difference between a good and bad driver is 40  years too many on the road,” they explained.

“Families and lawmakers face the dilemma of whether — or when — to take away lolo’s  car keys.”  Studies conclude that drivers, in their 60s, are among the safest, the Economist reports. Those aged 70 are a fraction of  the population. Yet, this sliver accounts for 17 percent of pedestrian deaths. From 80s onward, death rates were nine times greater than for those under 70.

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Long before Henry Ford assembled the first buggy, the Psalmist wrote: “Seventy is the sum of our years. Eighty if we are strong.” But taking hands off the wheel, for good, took time to sink in. Decades of habit resisted the shift.

We drove all five kids to grade school through clogged Manila traffic. In Bangkok, we taught the five how to drive. We  ferried   them to  colleges   in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

Former president Bill Clinton dubs us “junior-senior.” Associated Press uses the phrase “near elderly.” My surviving classmates prefer to be called “mature.” Indeed, our locks are grey and we use bifocals. We fumble for names. Please speak a little louder, we ask.

That brought back memories of our lapsed international  drivers license at a despedida party for  Asian journalists in a resort outside Ulan Bator, capital of Mongolia.  Alcohol, notably the traditional  “airag” – made from fermented mare’s milk —  flowed freely. “Don’t worry,” our official guide told me.”I’ll be at your door at seven sharp tomorrow to bring you to the airport.”

At seven on the dot, he was at the door of our “ger”, the traditional Mongolian tent home. Bleary-eyed, he thrust the car keys to me. “I drive and we’ll end in the Tuul river”, which is 18 miles southwest of Ulan Bator.  “Drive with an expired license and you’ll catch your flight to Beijing, then Bangkok.”

Reluctantly, we stretched out our hands for the car key. As we left the ger side road and slid  into the highway, a panaroma of  a vast land,  which is one of the world’s least densely populated countries, appeared. There are over  2.8 million Mongolians thinly spread over 1.5 million square kilometers.

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( Alongside Bolivia, Mongolia lodged at slot 108, among 187 countries, in human development measured by UN in 2013.  Life expectancy rose from 57 in 1980 to almost 69 in 2012. But poverty remains widespread. )

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What came to mind, however, on this drive was the song from the 1970 film “On A Clear Day, You Can See  Forever.”  That starred  Barbra Streisand, Yves Montand, and Jack Nicholson. “Miss Streisand, as a 22-year-old New Yorker whose Yiddish intonations are so thick they sound like a speech defect, defines innocence by sitting with her knees knocked together and her feet spread far apart, a mannerism she may have picked up from Mary Pickford,” one of the reviews noted.  In the event, we caught our flight. How our guide drove back  we never learned.

Today, more youngsters today have ignition keys to more horsepower than our generation did. “Teenagers mature, gain experience and put risky behavior behind them,” the Economist adds. “( Far too many) of the elderly do not realize how much skill, judgment and reaction time they’ve lost. They don’t factor in deteriorating vision and lesser stamina.

As years pile up, the brain begins to shrink, blood flow slackens. Ability to process thoughts-—“cognitive function” is the medical term–slows down. After retirement, two out of three, begin to experience “senior moments”: tendency to misplace things, a word on the tip of the tongue which never comes, etc. Memory lapses become frequent.

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Cognitive skills allow one to steer smoothly or ease in between fast-moving cars. Our grand-daughter just graduated  from University of California Los Angeles. Youngsters like her can hit brakes within “0.7 second for something expected to 1.5 seconds for a total surprise.” Not her Lolo.

Three factors interlock in accidents involving elderly drivers: (a) poor judgement, notably, when turning across oncoming traffic (b) drifting out of lane; and  (c) inability to react fast to cope with surprises.

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“It takes 8,460 bolts to assemble a car—   and one nut to scatter them all over the road”…So, when should you let your licenses lapse? There are no clear-cut guidelines.

Ask your doctor. Many in the grey mop crowd are “maintenance medication” for chronic ailments. Some drugs have ingredients that further dull motor skills and whittle reaction times.

Families can best judge it’s time for an older driver to slide out from behind the wheel, says University of Massachusetts gerontology professor Elizabeth Dugan. “But many wait until an accident.”

Now  a sophmore at UCLA in Los Angeles, our  grandson Adrian is applying for his first driver’s license. His  lolo will  paste up this last license as a souvenir–  if we can remember where we left our scrapbook ####. (By Juan  L.  Mercado)

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