Friday, July 29, 2011

Differences in Driving

I am a Northern girl living in a Southern town. I love Vero Beach, and after many years driving 45 minutes to an hour commuting to work, I have to say I love being less than 5 miles from work. Having said that, for as much as I have driven in New Jersey and New York City, I have never come as close to dying as I have in Vero Beach, Florida.

There is a joke that Florida is God’s waiting room, and because of all the retirees it is not hard to understand the joke. You may see a large, older model car driving down the road, and all you can see inside are knuckles on the steering wheel, and perhaps the top of a hat or a fuzzy white head. If the car is old enough, you may even see sparks flying from the seat belt trapped in the car door as it flaps against the road.

In New Jersey and New York City, aggressive driving is the norm, everyone knows that, and the passive driver is left on the side of the road. In Florida, due to the large amount of both seniors and tourists, aggressive driving can get you killed, but so can driving the speed limit and being on your own side of the road minding your own business.

One Saturday, driving on the west-bound lane of a divided highway in Vero Beach (State Road 60, by 10th Avenue), an older woman driving a tank turned into my lane as I neared the intersection. It was early enough that there was not much traffic, and I knew there was only one car beside me. He saw the car moving s-l-o-w-l-y into my lane, and moved to his right to give me room to move over and out of the path of the oncoming car. My coffee flying, I was swerving, honking and braking and I moved over to the lane on my right. The oblivious driver was fully turned and driving east bound in the west bound lane, and fortunate that the light at US 1 was in her favor. I didn’t hear a crash, and assumed she turned onto the next cross street.

I have had a similar experience at least two other times, and I always do the RCA dog impression: head cocked to the side while I puzzle out what is wrong with this picture. I have been lucky not to be involved in any head-on collisions, but there are many people in this area who have died. More than alcohol, driving while elderly is a problem here.

I understand that giving up one’s driving privileges due to age is equivalent to giving up one’s independence, but I have two good examples to go by. My father-in-law realized that he should not drive anymore when my husband suggested that he shouldn’t. My grandmother voluntarily gave up her car when she found out she had a heart problem; in her case, she said she would feel terrible if she caused an accident and someone was hurt.

I hope I recognize when it is my turn to turn in my keys, and let someone else do the driving. In the meantime, I keep my eyes peeled out for the errant driver.

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