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Silver Threads: A self-imposed curfew for this older driver

Fifteen years ago, as I began writing Silver Threads for The Times-Picayune’s Sunday Living section, I told this story:

Elderly man says to his geezer friend, “Boy, have I met an incredible woman! We’ve had only two dates, but she’s the one!”

Friend asks, “What’s the deal? Is she awesomely gorgeous and just amazing in the sack?”

Old guy answers, “Not really. But she drives at night!”

I had just turned 62 when I put this joke in one of my columns, and had a 72-year-old friend whose keen eyesight made it certain she never dined in a restaurant alone or went to a party without an escort. I couldn’t imagine either of us not being able to drive at night.

I got to thinking about that last Friday when I read that a pedestrian had been hit and killed by a motorist about two miles away from our Algiers neighborhood, on one of the main thoroughfares leading to the Crescent Connection. The time was shortly after 10 p.m., and the man who was driving the car is 82 years old.

Now, how many times have I had to brake for people sprinting across the street — day and night — at that exact same place? Some walkers do cross at one of the four traffic lights going down De Gaulle Drive toward the river, but many, many of them don’t. They wait for a gap in the traffic and just go, and most of them are wearing dark clothing that makes if very hard to see them, even in the headlights. …

But that’s not the point, is it? One man is dead and the other is — I can only imagine his state of mind, his pain.

For the record, I gave up driving at night about two years ago. The decision was made after I’d gone to an 8 p.m. movie at Canal Place, and hit two curbs trying to turn left after exiting the bridge via the Tchoupitoulas down ramp. I have since been driving to the theaters on the West Bank — one way in the daylight and the other way in the dark coming home. The route involves only two turns and long stretches of relatively well-lighted street. But what if someone decides to run across in front of me? From now on, I’ll get my movie fixes at mid-day.

Going online to check out advice for older drivers, I found many sites, among them one sponsored by “Aging Parents and Elder Care,” which points out that people of any age can be bad drivers — from teenagers to the old folks. Our 17-year-old got his license this summer and I’ve ridden with him several times. I think he’s doing well, and he has several things going for him that I don’t: sharp reflexes, agility, and good vision at all times of the day or night. What I have that he doesn’t is experience, better judgment, and no texting function on my cell phone.

The aging parents website has these questions for seniors like me. Do you:

  • Drive at inappropriate speeds, either too fast or too slow?
  • Respond slowly to or not notice pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers?
  • Ignore, disobey or misinterpret street signs and traffic lights?
  • Fail to yield to other cars or pedestrians who have the right-of-way?
  • Fail to judge distances between cars correctly?
  • Drift across lane markings or bump into curbs?
  • Forget to turn on headlights after dusk?
  • Have difficulty with glare from oncoming headlights, streetlights, or other bright or shiny objects, especially at dawn, dusk and at night? (I’m told that polarized sunglasses worn over your prescription ones can help with that last problem. Check them out on the internet or at the drugstore.)

“There are many ways for elderly drivers to adjust so they are not a danger to themselves or others,” continues the website. Among them are:

  • Avoid driving at night and, if possible, at dawn or dusk.
  • Drive only to familiar locations.
  • Avoid driving to places far away from home.
  • Avoid expressways (freeways) and rush hour traffic.
  • Leave plenty of time to get where you are going.
  • Don’t drive alone.

Aha — always take a Sheila with you. I’ve told you this one before: Two old ladies were headed to a bingo parlor when the passenger said to the driver, “Muriel, I hate to criticize, but you’ve run two red lights in the past three miles.”

“Oh heck, Sheila,” said Muriel, “am I driving tonight?”

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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