Monday, May 20, 2013



Reprinted by permission

When my father died, it was almost a relief, because it meant we wouldn’t be having The Talk.

The talk in question has nothing to do with birds and bees.  It’s that other discussion—the one about Dad’s driving.

By the time Dad was in his seventies, he’d had cataract surgery and wore thick glasses.  Surgery to reattach his retina was only partially successful.  He’d had a collision with a truck that I ascribed to his impaired vision. When he mentioned one day that a young friend had asked him to pick up her son after school, I almost choked.

Like many children of elderly drivers, I dreaded The Talk and put it off.  I lived 500 miles from Dad, so I couldn’t become his wheels.  When he passed away in his sleep at seventy-seven, keys on the dresser and car safely stowed in the garage, grief wasn’t the only emotion I felt.

I was forty-three then; I’m sixty-five now. I don’t know when my turn is coming, but I know it will. I’ve always had faulty depth perception, and it’s getting worse as I age. And my neck doesn’t turn as far as it used to.  So far my occasional driving misjudgments have been confined to parking attempts.

A failed parking attempt

For now, I’m planning to buy a smaller, more maneuverable car. I hope I’ll know when to turn in my keys.

So I was intrigued when I picked up the April 7 Cincinnati Enquirer and read about a program called Beyond Driving with Dignity. It has been offered in Cincinnati since 2011, and it’s spreading throughout the United States and Canada.

Matt Gurwell, a retired Ohio State Highway patrolman, founded the program in Cleveland in 2008. In his twenty-four years on the force, he delivered hundreds of death notifications to families of crash victims, including older drivers.  Now CEO of Keeping Us Safe, parent company for the BDD program, Gurwell developed a curriculum, workbook, and exercises to help senior citizens assess whether they can keep driving safely.  Families can elect to work with elderly drivers on their own or engage a certified BDD professional at a cost of a few hundred dollars.

BDD workbook

I wanted to know more.  I sent for the workbook and was pleasantly surprised when it arrived with a thank-you note from Gurwell saying, “If I can be of assistance to you or your family, please let me know.”

I flipped through the workbook. I liked its guiding principle, “This project needs to be worked as a collaborative effort between family and the older driver.  It cannot be approached with an ‘us vs. him’ attitude, or as two opposing forces waiting to meet in a dark alley.”

Gurwell covers all the bases with chapters on initiating driving-related conversations, understanding an elderly driver’s fears, and assessing health issues such as vision, hearing, memory, reaction time, strength and flexibility, and medication.  There is a guide for rating the older driver’s performance and another for modifying the vehicle, if appropriate, to make it safer for him or her to drive.  Finally, there is an all-important chapter on finding workable transportation alternatives.

From what I read, I’m good to go for a few more years, at least.  But I consider this book a valuable resource.  I plan to keep it and check it periodically—before my son decides we need to have The Talk.

For more information on Beyond Driving with Dignity, visit the Keeping Us Safe website,, or call toll-free to 877-907-8841.

Incomplete Passes, Linda’s first book, was named a finalist in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
Linda has been married since 1969 to Scott Lange, an announcer and narrator.  They have two cats and a son who is not named after “Mr. A” in Incomplete Passes.
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J.B. DiNizo said...

First rate!! Everyone should read this, don't care what their age might be! I am a very cautious driver and at my age I know my driving years are concluding. Terrible that here in NJ you drive assuming everyone else is nuts.I drove recently to the animal shelter where I volunteer and found several drivers who thought the road was the Indy 500.Egads!!

Deborah Dee Harper said...

Excellent post, Linda! I didn't know this program existed; what a wonderful way to transition both child and parent during those tough times. Thank you.


Linda Lange said...

Thanks, J.B. and Deb! I'm glad to know this information was helpful. I did like the workbook and think this is a much-needed program. J.B., I also volunteer at an animal shelter. We had one elderly volunteer who used to show up every week with new dings and dents in her car. We were all so relieved when Marjorie stopped driving, and I thought about her when I wrote this post. Marjorie still volunteers, although I believe she is over 90, but now she comes with a companion.

................................ Kevin Parsons said...

My dad is 92 and still drives, although he submitted to riding on road trips, as he's a snowbird. The biggest thing for him is the daunting specter of losing his independence.