I had an uncle who, well into his 80s, loved to drive so fast, taking the curves of country roads at 40-50 mph, that my father, his younger brother, had to tell him to slow down. But I think most of us, as we get older, become slower and more cautious drivers.
Not only do our aging brains process information slower, there’s more to process. I live in a college town, where I encounter not just cars and buses, but bicyclists, skateboarders and wandering pedestrians—college students studying their cell phones or homeless men stumbling into the street without looking. Because Boulder has pledged to be bicycle and pedestrian friendly, the city has installed cross-walks all over town, forcing drivers to be extra vigilant in watching to see if a pedestrian is about to step into traffic—or worse, someone in a wheelchair, which is even harder to see.
The situation can be confusing when you’re young, but when you’re older it takes more concentration to figure out the whirl of traffic: a pedestrian crossing the street, a bicycle coming up behind you, a car suddenly turning right, lights flashing at a pedestrian walkway.
On top of that, as the world has sped up, the pace of traffic has picked up. My theory is that people have gotten accustomed to the speed of the Internet, to everything happening fast and on demand, and that carries over into their driving. Many drivers, especially younger ones who grew up with the Internet, are impatient and don’t want to be slowed down by an old lady in front of them.
In my urban area, everyone now drives at least 10 miles over the speed limit, and if you don’t, you’re liable to have an angry driver, usually a large SUV with a big grill, on your bumper. I had an encounter last year with a driver who was angry when I didn’t merge into traffic fast enough. I was turning right onto a busy two-lane highway. Even with a merge lane, the traffic was so heavy I would have had to push myself in between cars. I’m not that aggressive, so I was waiting for the traffic to thin out. But the man behind me, maybe in his 30s or 40s, was impatient and stuck his head out the window and started yelling obscenities at me.
Because I don’t want to be in an accident, I try my best to go along with this aggressive traffic. Because more people are running red lights, I now routinely go through yellow lights, even if they are almost at the end of their cycle and about to turn red. I don’t want to get hit from behind by a speeding driver.
Because I feel the pressure all around me, I sometimes drive faster than I feel comfortable with. I can understand why a friend who lived near the university gave up driving; there was too much chaos on the streets and sidewalks around her building. Or why another friend sold her car after she almost hit a bicyclist.
I don’t want to give up driving. It’s not just the freedom to go where I want and when I want, but also the sheer pleasure of being on an open road. My father loved driving, and it pained my siblings and I to have to take away his driver’s license. But we felt we had no choice after, in his late 80s, he got so badly lost that it took two days for the police to find his car.
I’m just hoping that the self-driving car will arrive before I have to give up driving. One that will make all the necessary decisions about when to move out into traffic, when to stop for a pedestrian, and how to avoid a bicyclist, but that will still allow me to drive through my beautiful state with the windows open, the wind in my hair, and singing with Bruce Springsteen.