One-Woman Danger

6 Jan

Letterbalm Old Lady Behind the WheelDear LetterBalm: I have an 83-year-old friend who should not be driving a golf cart, let alone a car. She has vision problems and night blindness, and her reflexes aren’t the best. But she refuses to give up her car. Already she’s had several fender benders and unexplained dents and big scratches have appeared on her vehicle. (I think she’s sideswiped parked cars.) I’m terrified she’ll hit a pedestrian or cause a fatal crash. I’ve offered to drive her to grocery shopping, her hair salon, her doctors and other errands. But she gets defensive and says she’ll lose her freedom. I think I need to report her to the local department of motor vehicles. But I feel guilty because she has no family close by and few friends. How can I convince her to quit on her own?

–White Knuckles

This is a classic case where being a good friend conflicts with the ethical thing to do. Don’t delay. Sit your friend down for a serious, no-nonsense, no-excuses talk. If she balks and ends her friendship, so be it. You still have the obligation to the community to report her and get her off the road, and you need to tell her this. Ms. L.B. empathizes with your friend’s feelings of loss if she gives up driving. This is independence she’s enjoyed most of her life, and many seniors wrestle with this reality. You certainly need to acknowledge her fear and pain. But keep to the topic at hand:

Stella, I won’t have this conversation with you again. Once and for all, it’s time for you to give up your car. You are no longer a safe driver. We can arrange for a driver’s test for you, but you’re an intelligent woman, and you know what the result would be. You’ve already had fender benders and other incidents. I will share responsibility if I keep quiet. So, for the sake of community safety, I must report you if you won’t quit voluntarily – even if it means the end of our friendship, which would break my heart. I’ve already told you that I can take you to most of your errands and appointments, and I’ve found an affordable jitney service that operates door-to-door when I’m not available. My dear, I understand this means relinquishing the independence you’ve had most of your life. Of course, it’s painful and unfair, and I understand how sad it would make you. But how would you feel if you caused a serious accident and, heaven forbid, somebody died? It’s just not worth the risk. Let’s see about selling your car and maybe putting the money toward something you really want.

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