There’s life after driving

Today marks four years since I stopped driving. It’s something that happens to everyone, eventually. In my case, the time came sooner than I would have liked, but later than it should have.

Because my condition progressed quite slowly, driving was initially no problem. But as my legs became less useful, driving became harder. When my voice started failing, I wondered how I would deal with the police, if I was ever pulled over. Or how I would deal with an accident, even if it wasn’t my fault. But I kept driving.

I realised I had started driving more and more slowly, hugging the left lane, and resting my foot on the brake pedal in preparation for any red lights. But I was still driving.

My GP recommended a driving assessment, which I undertook, and passed, scoring 7 out of 10 – not bad for a guy who couldn’t use his legs. And I kept driving.

One evening, on the way home from work in the half light of dusk, I saw in my peripheral vision a child – no older than two – dash out of a street-side shop, between two parked cars and onto the road in front of me. Her desperate father was no more than a metre behind; stooped low and running, his arms outstretched as he willed her to stop. I froze. I didn’t swerve or touch the brakes. I expected an impact but it didn’t come. How I missed her I’ll never really know. I saw in my mirror that the car behind me swerved and braked violently. I assume she hadn’t quite reached my path and that saved her.

I pulled over, shaking uncontrollably. After about 40 minutes I had regained enough composure to drive slowly home. Amazingly, inexplicably, I kept driving.

Perhaps a week later I was listening to ABC morning radio and one caller was former NSW Children’s Court magistrate Barbara Holborow. She explained that she had given up driving as she no longer felt she was safe. She reasoned that while she probably could have retained her license for a bit longer, she could never have lived with herself if she had killed or injured someone, and that the modest inconvenience was a small price to pay for peace of mind.

When I arrived home that evening, perhaps my wife could see something had changed. As she helped me from the car, she asked ‘how much longer do you want to keep doing this?’ I answered ‘No more. That’s enough’ and that was the last day I drove.

I developed a relationship with a couple of taxi drivers who drove a premium wheelchair accessible taxi. They arranged that I could SMS my bookings to them, and offered a brilliant service. After a visit to my GP, The NSW State Government provided me with vouchers under the Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme, a wonderful program that provides people with permanent disabilities with half price taxi fares. My employer generously offered to pay the remainder of my travel to work.

Later, after I moved to a powerchair, I learned to catch the train, and now use this method of public transport whenever I can. I know the trains are a pain for some, but for me, they’re brilliant. The station staff at my regular stations now know me and call ahead to the platform to make sure the train dwells long enough for me to get on.

Of course, there are things you miss when you don’t drive. I used to love long drives on country roads. And the convenience of course. The burden, also, on my wife, who is now our family’s only driver, is significant.

One thing that amazed me, after I stopped driving, was how many people — friends, family, work colleagues, even my doctors — said to me how much of a relief it was to them that I had stopped. They had been desperately worried whenever I ventured out. Why didn’t anyone say anything? Maybe they all figured it was for someone else to do. Or feared my reaction. Or perhaps they felt I was sensible enough to know when the time was right. Well, I wasn’t. I’m honestly not sure what I would have done if someone had sat me down and said it was time to stop, but I sincerely hope I’d have listened. I now know, if I knew someone in my situation, or even an elderly relative or friend I was concerned about, I’d certainly say something.

I’ve learnt there is life after driving.

One comment

  1. Read your latest blog on ‘Living without driving’, I was probably more pleased that you were able to drive than considering if it was desirable that you do so. It appears that with the blinding clarity of 20—20 hindsight you may have made a dubious decision at the time but you were the only one who had the knowledge of your effectiveness behind the wheel. I suspect that you did not widely promulgate the incident with the little girl. I certainly had never heard of it. If I had I would have thought that you should have given up driving but would have hesitated to advise for it may have only made you more determined to keep on. After all you would have been the best judge of the restrictions of your abilities.

    I recall one time when I was at my parents home with my little daughter who was playing in the back yard when my Father went out to get the car. My Mother said:

    ‘Go and get your daughter, your Father is not as good a driver as he used to be (he never was very good). You, of course, would be terribly distressed if anything happened to your daughter but it would kill your Father.’

    Life without driving is much easier to live with when it is your own decision.”

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