On Saturday, Prince Philip finally gave up his driving licence at the age of ninety-seven. The Prince has been under increasing public pressure to stop driving following an accident near the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, in which his Land Rover Freelander landed on its side after a collision with a Kia.
Many people were somewhat shocked that Philip was still driving at such a momentous age. It is not as though Philip will lose his independence by surrendering his licence as presumably, he will be able to afford to have his own driver. Many less-privileged, elderly people do fear losing their independence from surrendering their licence and that might be why so many continue to drive well into old age. Yet is age really a reason for giving up your licence? There was a very interesting programme on television last year when elderly road users were assessed to see if they were still safe to drive. The message of the programme was that everyone is different and needs to be considered individually, rather than simply making a blanket rule for an age group. Whilst some elderly people do become dangerous drivers, then others are still able to drive carefully.
This debate concerning the right time to stop driving, reminded me of my own reasons for giving up driving, a few years ago. One of the reasons was that I take strong medication for back pain and the medication makes me quite drowsy in the morning. Secondly, and this was in all honesty the most important reason, I didn’t feel safe driving. Driving caused me a great deal of anxiety and fear and I was much better off when I stopped. I am quite fortunate in that I live in South Yorkshire and taxis are relatively cheap to use. They are cheaper than most bus journeys. People always seem shocked when I tell them that I do not drive. We seem to take for granted that everyone should be able to drive. But I don’t mind admitting that I was an incredibly bad driver and the roads are no doubt much safer now that I am no longer driving.
I was never cut out for driving. I first tried it when I was about seventeen with my Dad. He’d take me for a quick circuit around Sainsbury’s car park. I always found it hard to concentrate on what I was supposed to be doing as I have a butterfly mind. It comes in handy when you are a teacher and need to focus on many different things at once, but when you are driving, it is more of a hindrance because you struggle to concentrate.
I decided not to drive for a while because I just didn’t seem able to crack it. I tried with a friend during my year abroad. But after one very scary lesson in which I nearly crashed his car into the sea, surprisingly, he never offered to take me out again. I left driving until I was working in Malvern in the early nineties. I had lessons with an instructor, and I seemed to be doing quite well. He put me in for my test and I was confident that I would pass, especially since I was becoming an expert at hill starts from all the steep inclines in Malvern.
Sadly, things took something of an unexpected turn when I drove through a red light at a pedestrian crossing and nearly knocked a woman over. I can still hear the examiner now shouting incredulously,” You just nearly killed someone!” I calmly looked at him and replied, “We may as well go back to the Test Centre then.”
I had never failed anything in my life before and dealing with the failure was far worse than anything I had ever had to cope with. My instructor was very patient, and he kept reassuring me that I was a good driver and I would pass …. one day! It took four attempts before I finally did it. I must have spent a fortune in lessons.
I was on a high from passing my test because not long afterwards, I bought a brand-new Ford Fiesta. I’d been driving it for all of two weeks when I had a minor bump when manoeuvring my car out of the drive at my home. I thought that someone was trying to warn me and so I didn’t drive again for about seven years.
In the early-Noughties, I was living in Cranleigh in Surrey and I began to think that my fear of driving was ridiculous. I had a son and I needed to take him to school and ferry him around to all his activities. I had some lessons with an instructor for about a year. My instructor gave me some confidence, but I would only drive for very short distances of about a mile. When my first marriage broke down, I needed to drive for my independence and therefore by some fluke, I drove for several years with very few problems and I could somehow control my anxiety. To this day, I have no idea how I managed it for so long. I was aware that I was not always the best driver though. One Friday evening after work, one of my friends was stuck in a long traffic jam caused by someone driving far too slow. He was fuming with anger at being delayed on his journey home. He managed to find a short cut and then he finally saw who was causing the jam. He was just about to shout really loudly when he realised that it was me. “I might have known it was you!” He joked! “Only you could hold up this much traffic!”
A few years later, another car went into the back of me when I was stationary. It was only a very minor prang, but it was sufficient to reignite all my neurosis over driving again. I am not sure why, but I started to lie in bed at night and worry about the journey I had to do the next day. I would remain awake for hours, overthinking. I tried everything to alleviate my anxiety from hypnosis to EFT and meditation. Yet nothing seemed to work. I ended up allowing my anxiety to control me and I finally had no choice but to admit that I didn’t want to drive anymore. I sold my car and I haven’t driven at all for the past five years. Sometimes I feel that I have let myself down and I was a bit of a fool for giving into my anxiety. But in all honesty, I don’t think it has changed my life in anyway, apart from for the better, because I no longer have the anxiety.
Sometimes, my husband and my Dad would try and convince me that I should start driving again. I got so fed up of them nagging me, that I told them that I would do it if my Dad bought me a brand-new Range Rover. That certainly shut them up. Perhaps more people need to accept that not everyone is cut out to be a good driver and then perhaps we might have fewer accidents? Some of us just don’t have the patience, nor the concentration nor even the dexterity. Perhaps by not not driving I am being unselfish, as I’m clearly putting the needs of other road users before my own?
Well, that’s my excuse and for now, I’m sticking with it.