A Driving Instructor's Blog

I wrote a few days ago about a further brace of accidents involving old drivers. Interestingly, there is a further story connected with the incident involving 93-year old Jim Sims.

Before we start reaching for the Kleenex to mop up the tears over this sob story, let’s remind ourselves that Sims hit the gas instead of the brake at a T-junction, shot forward, narrowly missed a cyclist, crashed through a fence, and hit concrete bollards on a park green. Sims’ £22,000 1.8 litre Astra convertible was written off in the accident so it was hardly a minor scrape he had.He argues that he “passed” a Specsavers eye test, and yet he could not read a number plate at the legal 20.5 metre limit at the scene of the accident. And I know that if my foot slips off a pedal for any reason, it doesn’t press down hard and continuously on another!

But it would appear that the police are the ones who are at fault:

“There’s no justice,” [Sims] said…

“Fifty years I’ve been driving… down the M11 and the M25 north circular – and I have never had a scrape…

“All the police want to do is to stop me driving because I look old. They are trying to get me off the road…

“I’m a prisoner in my own home now. These four walls are a prison to me.

“Without that car I am lost. I have got a bus pass yes, but I have to walk around to the bus stop and I can’t do that.”

His son said:

It’s disgraceful. They didn’t have to crucify him but they did – they intimidated him.

Well, I’ve got news for Mr Sims and son. The way he drove 50 years ago is NOT a measure of how he drives now. At 93, he IS old, and it is highly likely that his foot “slipping off the brake” is intimately connected with that. In any individual’s case, there comes a point where sympathy and compassion has to be overtaken by common sense, and Jim Sims has just discovered that point.

It’s really frightening sometimes. I have a late-middle aged pupil whose eyesight worries me. I’ve already made him go to the opticians and get a new prescription, and yet his ability to read a number plate at 20.5 metres is still borderline. He can read it – I wouldn’t be teaching him otherwise – but add another metre or two and he can’t. This causes problems with him anticipating situations, because road signs are blurred to him until they are within his 20-25 metre range. That’s not very far when you are travelling at 60 or 70mph and need to take the next exit, and it says to me that 20.5 metres is nowhere near far enough for the roadside test.

This pupil is desperate for his licence, and in spite of my talks about monitoring his vision and not driving if it gets any worse, I know he will continue to drive no matter how bad his eyesight gets – and as I say, it has already deteriorated to the point where it is right on the limit. I shudder to think that he might still be driving in even 10 years time, let alone in 40!

Jim Sims has not been banned for life. Perhaps he should have been, and at 93 – which just emphasises the likely difference between driving now and driving 50 years ago – it is perhaps as good as a lifetime ban. But he has simply been told he must pass a driving test if he wants to continue driving.

If Mr Sims is as good as he claims to be, then perhaps passing the test again will only keep him off the road for a few months, and by the end of summer he could be back behind the wheel – hopefully in something a bit smaller than a 1.8 litre pratmobile..

But somehow, I doubt it.

Elderly drivers have simply got to accept that the chances of their skills declining dramatically overnight are far greater than the same thing happening to a younger driver, simply because of their age. Being old is a risk in itself in many aspects of daily life, and especially so when operating moving equipment. It doesn’t matter what younger drivers (or any other drivers) “do” on the roads. What matters is why they do it, and simply being unable to cut it due to reaching 80- or 90-plus is a distinct situation with proven dangers.

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