'Smarten up you old fool': The struggles of an aging driver

At 67, Bob Lee has been driving for more than half a century, but he's starting to wonder whether that might need to change soon. He's taking driving lesson to find out whether he's safe enough to stay on the road or if it's time to hand over his keys.

Why a Winnipeg man has chosen to take a driving lesson at 67

Bob Lee, who has been driving for 52 years, wants a refresher course on the rules of the road. (Trevor/CBC)

At some point in life — whether years from now or much sooner — you might look in the mirror and honestly ask yourself, "Is it still safe for me to be operating a vehicle?"

For Bob Lee, that time is right now. 

The 67-year-old Winnipegger has been driving for more than half a century, clocking thousands upon thousands of kilometres during his lifetime, but he's starting to wonder whether his time on the road is nearing its end. 

"I know I've become careless. I've seen incidents, in retrospect — looked back at things I've just done on the road — and thought, 'Oh, that wasn't very alert,'" Lee said while sitting in his car as he waited for his driving instructor to arrive.

"I've been driving since I was 16. That's going on 52 years of driving, and I think in that time you get more than complacent. You get a little cocky."

Bob Lee hasn't had a single traffic incident in more than 30 years and he's hoping to keep it that way. (Trevor Dineen/CBC)

So Lee decided it was time do something he hadn't done since he was a teenager — take a driving lesson. With his reflexes slowing down and his attention span starting to shorten, he wanted to be proactive and make sure he wasn't in an accident. 

It's not a right to be on the road, it's a privilege.       - Bob Lee

According to Manitoba Public Insurance, of the 428 people seriously injured in a motor vehicle collision in 2017, 74 were older than 65 — the most of any age group.

Not wanting to add to those stats in the coming years, Lee found a driving instructor but continued to have some very real concerns.

"I'm worried I've forgotten the rules of the road," Lee said while tapping on his steering wheel.

"Also, am I going to be willing to make the changes? For example, to go from driving with one hand on the wheel and one hand on the radio, to two hands where they're suppose to be on the wheel. Will I adjust to that? Will I be willing to adjust to that?" he said.

"How much intransigence will I demonstrate once the driving instructor tells me, 'Smarten up, you old fool!' "

Mature Driver Workshop

Larry Redmond, the director of Road Safety at Safety Services Manitoba, knows the struggles aging drivers can face.

"So many things change over the years, whether it's traffic laws or how to use a traffic circle, that it's nice to have a refresher course. That's why we have the Mature Driver Workshop, to brush up some skills and try to give people that extra confidence they need to be on the road." 

And that's exactly what Lee is hoping for, too. He wants to know that he isn't going to be putting himself or anyone else in harms way because safety is his only concern. 

"It's not a right to be on the road, it's a privilege," Lee said.

"If you're 17 and can't drive well or if you're 71 and can't drive well, we have to make sure that person is off the road, at least until they improve their skills."


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