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Driving under the influence of experience

All Ontario drivers must pass a "multiple choice" test if they want to continue driving after they hit 80 years of age.

My dear mother turned 80 last Saturday. On our way to the birthday bash, I caught myself thinking that she might not show up for her own party.

Because a few weeks earlier she flunked the written “multiple choice” test all Ontario drivers must pass if they want to continue driving after they hit 80 years of age.

After the test, a driver examiner came out to talk with her, and subsequently decided that if she wanted to keep her license, she would not only need to try the written test again and pass it, but also pass an actual driving test.

No thanks, said my mom, I’m done.

So Saturday was not only her 80th birthday, but also the last day she would ever again hold a valid driver’s license.

So I half-pictured her suddenly deciding to blow the party off, in favour of getting behind the wheel of her 2004 Hyundai four-door Accent, and heading off for one last monumental road trip, possibly to Vegas, possibly picking up an assortment of hitchhikers along the way.

Turned out she was game for the party, and actually not too melancholy about re-entering another non-driving phase of her life.

Her first non-driving phase was actually quite a stretch. She only started to drive the year after my father died. He died at 50.

Mom got her license at 50. My brother and I taught her, first taking her where our father first taught us — the cemetery. With its little-used network of mini streets, the cemetery was a perfect training course. And we had to go there a lot anyway, so it was convenient, though too emotionally busy at the time for my taste.

My father was a natural, confident, and graceful driver. My mother is the other kind.

But she persevered and practiced and got her license on the first try. She evolved into a pretty decent driver. Her accidents were mostly minor in nature.

In retrospect, she should have developed a better technique for backing up.

Generally, she just swiveled her head about five degrees in either direction, pretended to look at the side mirrors, then stared straight at the rear-view mirror, commenced reversing, and hoped for the best.

She lives in the suburbs. Everyone, including me, is encouraging her to hire cabs whenever she feels like getting out — and not just for emergencies.

But it will be tough going for a while. She grew up in a country and in an era where they boiled a lot of potato soup. Jumping into a cab, just to get out of the house, will not feel entirely natural.

Her flexibility and freedom and range of social interaction have all diminished somewhat.

But that’s the way it is… Not everybody should be driving well into old age, and she’s of that group.

Just so happens our daughter, Amelia, turns 16 later this year and is aching to get her license.

She asked “Oma” if she could borrow the Driver’s Handbook.

“It’s yours,” said Oma. Just saved $14.95 plus HST.

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