When should we hand over the car keys?

Opinion: Columns

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By Mary Kay O'Grady



I haven't owned a car for about three years. It's not because of the environment; I was trying to save money. I used buses, taxis and Zipcar, which you rent by the hour. I picked up cars either at the Harlem/Lake parking lot or the Ridgeland Green Line station parking lot.

In May I insisted on renting a Zipcar and driving a friend to and from Glen Ellyn to the University of Chicago for chemotherapy. On my way to pick him up, I had a serious car accident. All I remember is a very loud crunching sound and then glass everywhere. I was T-boned on the driver's side by a truck that came 6-8 inches into my car.

I was very lucky. As they were cutting me out, I remember looking up at the ceiling of the car and seeing what I thought were lots of white ribbons. I remember asking if someone was having a party. They were the remains of air bags from the ceiling, which is a good argument for driving newer cars.

While I was in the emergency room, a policeman told me that six people said I had run a red light and was at fault. I have absolutely no memory of that, even now when my flashbacks have abated. I was ticketed, went to court, paid a fine and am under court supervision for a year.

I had already decided to stop driving when I was 75 (next year), simply because I had always been disgusted by old people who refused to give up the keys and wound up plowing into storefronts or playgrounds. So I just kicked my decision up a few months.

Then I went on vacation to an island where there's one four-way stop on the whole island. My kids agreed to let me drive their cars. I even drove my son-in-law's sports car once — at my age, I can still drive stick shift — although the dashboard was way too complicated. But I hated not having my own car and not being able to come and go as I pleased.

I don't mind taking taxis and buses here in town, and while I moved to Oak Park to get out of DuPage County, it's really hard not being independent. Zipcar's insurance was excellent, but they told me I could no longer be a "Zipster," as they call their clients. I haven't yet tried a regular car rental agency.

At least one of my doctors thinks I may have decided to stop driving too soon. Since Alzheimer's runs in my family, I had a workup a few months ago, and did better than I did on the previous one.

Most of my friends, some in their 80s, still drive, but tend to stay off the expressways. I could do that.

What do you think?

Mary Kay O'Grady writes on senior citizen issues at OakPark.com.

Reader Comments

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Bill Dwyer  

Posted: October 3rd, 2017 7:18 AM

Someone help meet out. I'm looking for a news article that's headlined "Confused senior motorist drives into crowd, 59 dead, 527 injured." Can't find any.

Ken Stucken  

Posted: September 23rd, 2017 4:41 PM

I'm not the one creating a false dilemma. You provided the numbers that show there are more traffic fatalities. I'm just giving you a chance to back up your claim. The topic is about Mary Kay driving in Illinois,, in particular from Oak Park to Glen Ellyn. You provided the disturbing numbers on traffic fatalities in Illinois but can't support your own argument. In fact, your numbers refute your position. By your own admission, traffic deaths are not as commonly reported. They have become so common that we have just accepted it as normal. Man bites dog. Back on topic... Mary Kay doesn't remember running a red light. She already made the decision that she will not be driving any more and wants people to tell her it's still ok. My opinion is she should give up her license now, before she kills or mains someone.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: September 23rd, 2017 3:43 PM

Look it up yourself, snowflake. For anyone with a brain, the point is, fire arms are more of a threat to humans than motor vehicles. Which makes sense, again, to anyone with a brain, since they were designed to be lethal.

Ken Stucken  

Posted: September 23rd, 2017 2:21 PM

I never sent you any emails Dliar. If we're going to compare apples to apples, how many murders with firearms occured in the entire state?

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: September 23rd, 2017 9:47 AM

Wow. I'm having a "melt down" when I make one post. But Stuck Ken fires off four straight emails in response. Who's that having a melt down again? As for the statistics, they're from the State of Illinois, not wherever Stuck Ken imagines their source being.

Tom MacMillan  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 8:23 PM

Mary Kay -- Long letter, and you made no mention of the injuries, damages and costs inflicted on the driver of the truck who had the bad luck to be near you when you ran a red light and crashed into him/her. I think it is time for you to never drive again.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 4:25 PM

Ray Simpson - your block sounds like a perfect place to install a speed limit camera, and get some much needed cash for the village.

Ken Stucken  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 4:20 PM


Ken Stucken  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 4:12 PM

What the heck, it's just numbers of dead people right? http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-illinois-traffic-deaths-increase-0815-20170814-story.html

Ken Stucken  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 4:08 PM

More imagination... http://abc7chicago.com/tag/traffic-fatalities/

Ken Stucken  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 4:07 PM

They don't count the traffic fatalities yet Bill was able to pull a number out of his butt anyway. I guess that's what happens when you try to your local news from NPR. What is Bill prepared to be outraged over? He has a meltdown whenever he reads one of my comments! Feel free to try these imaginary facts: http://chi.streetsblog.org/tag/fatality-tracker/

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 10:56 AM

Nick, it's just more imaginary facts from Stuck Ken. They don't give a running count of weekend traffic fatalities. But they DO provide such a count on murders, which nearly always involve fire arms. In Chicago alone, 500 people have been murdered this year. As for vehicle crashes, 769 people have died so far this year in the entire state. I guess it all depends on what you're prepared to be outraged over.

Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 10:53 AM

Nick, I believe Ken was parodying Mary Kay's recent call for the National Guard to kick down the doors of law abiding gun owners who have never illegally or recklessly discharged a weapon, and further insistied such individuals boldly self identify as a threat to the innocent community population. While it was gratuitous and unkindly put, it makes sense to draw some parallels. After all, cars don't kill people, people kill people. I will be sad to give up my vehicle one day, and I feel for seniors (who have more accidents per mile driven than teens) facing that day today. If Mary Kay unloaded her magazine into an intersection, with no recollection of having done so, she were certainly surrender her firearm. I believe moral consistently requires her to view all instruments of lethal force similarly. And I am very sympathetic to her about it.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 10:32 AM

@ Alice - I live on the same block as Lincoln School and I see cars speed down Grove well above the speed limit. Being a front porch observer of life I note that very few of the speed merchants are elderly. As a matter of fact the stop sign at Fillmore is all but ignored.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 9:49 AM

I have nothing against the older adults, as long as they're not sitting behind the wheel of a 4,000 pounds hunk of metal. We're talking about Oak Park, where hundreds of children walk and bike to schools every single day. Let's try to avoid endangering them, and the rest of pedestrians. And it's not like the author will be stuck at home if she can't drive. There's plenty of places accessible by walking and public transportation.

Carol Datt Mattar from Oak Park  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 9:03 AM

Nowhere does it say Ms. O'Grady lost consciousness before the accident. It is not uncommon for trauma victims to have no recollection of the event. If her physician believes she did lose consciousness, and the cause was something that could happen again, then s/he is required to notify the DMV. She asked for opinions, not nasty, anti-older adult comments.

Ken Stucken  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 8:55 AM

Thanks for the unprovoked, gratuitous meltdown Nick! Gee, aren't we Oak Parker's a swell bunch?

Nick Polido  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 8:21 AM

Ken, I don't know where you came from but wish you would crawl back under that rock.

Ken Stucken  

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 6:49 AM

Like many Chicagoans, when I wake up on Monday mornings, I dread getting "the count" on the morning news: the number of people killed in car accidents over the weekend. It's not just people who are killed who have their lives shattered. People who are crippled or maimed in automobile accidents wind up needing constant care for the rest of their lives. Let's confiscate Mary Kay's driver's license now before anyone gets hurt. If she doesn't give it up voluntarily then they should kick down her door. Close Zipcar locations in Oak Park so that she can't get her hands on a rental car. Lastly, if she is going to drive, her car should be brightly colored with illumination and perhaps even playing "Pop goes the weasel" similar to the ice cream trucks in the neighborhood. If Mary Kay is behind the wheel, I want to know about it dammit, so that I can get off the sidewalks.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 21st, 2017 11:10 PM

This is a sentinel event. This is a warning to you Mary Kay. You have no business what so ever on being on the road. You are a danger to yourself and others. You have no memory of the event? You ran a red light? Really? Are you serious? Give up your keys now and preserve a life. In NY I would report you to the DMV. You are clearly a risk to yourself and others.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: September 21st, 2017 10:29 PM

I will be 79 in a couple weeks and renewed my license yesterday. I was required to take the road test because of age. After this license expires I will be required to take a road test every year. I find that driving demands 100% of my attention and the thought of texting is beyond stupid. When I feel unsure of myself I will go for the state ID and figure out how to take my bike.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: September 21st, 2017 10:06 PM

Wow. I just imagined the author fainting when I'm crossing the road with my children, and then having no recollection mowing us down. Please give up your car keys now, for everyone's safety, including yours.

John Mohan from Chicago  

Posted: September 21st, 2017 9:18 PM

Hi Mary, My Grandmother (also named Mary) drove into her mid-90's and had no issues. She did stop driving on freeways around age 90. She is obviously the exception and there are many terrible older drivers. But I don't think you should let one accident define your abilities. Perhaps an idea would be to have a friend or relative drive along behind you and note how you drive and base your decision at least in part on that person's assessment of your driving skills. Best wishes, John Mohan

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