Why We Old People Drive So Slowly

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Society universally scorns and despises us old drivers. (And no, this is not my Millie.)

I confess! I belong to a class of people that society universally hates, despises, and curses without end; we are creatures for whom not a single bleeding heart in society possesses one ragged shred of sympathy. I admit it! I am a slow driver!

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Old and handicapped, a dangerous combination, I know.  The sight of this tag brings scowls and snarls.

I cruise down the road in my ’99 Buick Park Avenue, paying little heed to the posted speed limits just like everyone else on the highways. But while most casual road rebels stick it to the man by cruising five to ten miles above the limit, I raise even more hell by creeping below it! I do so with pride. I even have a special license plate that proves that I belong to the slow-drivers club. I know intellectually that other drivers froth at their mouths and wish I’d just have my final heart attack already, but nowadays I only contemplate these people absently, along with roadkill and mud puddles: something to avoid and then forget about.

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Big Boy chases every one of us, and sooner or later he will catch up. Then you’ll know you’ve become… a slow driver! (We accept you! Gooble gobble!)

I never thought of myself as a slow driver until one day I was enjoying a little trip to Walgreen’s for my cornucopia of medications. A grizzled man on a little Tau Tau scooter veered around my car and passed, shaking his tattooed fist at me in fury. What a fast and reckless scooter, I thought! Then a scrawny little boy pedaled past on a dirt bike, peering into my car with dull stupidity. I frowned. How could this be? But when the Big Boy statue marched past, proudly lifting his enormous cheeseburger above his giant grinning head, I knew something had gone terribly wrong. I was dumbfounded. Had I transformed into a slow driver? Surely not me! I looked at the speedometer: negative 10 miles per hour! Then I swear that Big Boy turned his head around and winked!

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Henry Ford invented the slow driver. Blame him.

It is said that Henry Ford invented the first slow driver in 1921. At this time auto manufacturers were designing faster vehicles every year, and state officials were concerned about traffic accidents. Robert E. Marsh of the Michigan State Constabulary requested that Ford do something about this growing threat to public safety. Ford responded with his “Sunday Drive” advertising campaign. Drivers were encouraged to drive their Fords on leisurely Sunday-afternoon road trips around the countryside. Rather than hurry from one destination to the next, Ford encouraged drivers to take their time and enjoy the experience of driving. He hoped that this attitude would spread and prevail universally, and he wasn’t disappointed. Two entire generations of youngsters came of age with a fondness for these Sunday drives in Model T’s and Model A’s. The “Sunday Driver” culture was born!

My youngest grand-daughter Kaylee[1], as she rode along in my Buick not so long ago, asked me, “Why do old people drive so slow?” I pondered and speculated, delivering a multitude of detailed answers, expounding on the subject in such a great level of thought and analysis that the child feigned car sickness just to avoid hearing any more. Fortunately her absence in the rest area gave me some time to consider the question from several more perspectives, and I explained and lectured to her for the rest of the day. How she loves her Grandpa!

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It’s a good thing I was poking down the road, or else these robbers might have shot me at the bank!

I told her that no matter how long it takes to get there, our destination will still be there waiting whenever we arrive. And if the destination happened to burn down or tumble into a hole in the ground because of an earthquake, then it was a good thing that I hadn’t hurried or else we would have died!

I added that we old folks, over the course of our lifetimes, have driven millions of miles, and probably wherever I am going, I’ve already visited before. Might as well smell the roses along the way. And I’d rather arrive relaxed than pry my stiff, old fingers off the steering wheel from the stress of rushing down the road. Plus the bumpy roads and fast turns or stops hurt my aching bones; I prefer a gentle ride to minimize this discomfort.[2]

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Sometimes my Buick feels like a giant dump truck. One day it will feel like a mining pit.  Right now I feel like crushed gravel.

I didn’t mention to her that in my case, and surely many others, I have experienced what I call Expanding Car Syndrome. As I’ve grown older and my senses and motor functions have slowed down and admittedly declined, I could swear that my Buicks have steadily grown larger and larger. To peer above my steering wheel requires a greater exertion. I look out the windshield and the road has stretched into a remote vista: driving my Park Avenue is like trying to drive my house while sitting on my couch and looking at the road through the living room window. I must slow down to process events that seem more distant and less imminent. Probably when I turn 90 I’ll feel like I’m driving my whole neighborhood through downtown Chicago. I guess maybe I’ll turn in my keys by then. Maybe. Unless someone takes them away from me first.[3]

But why does society pick on the slow drivers? Surely we could ask instead why everyone must drive in such a hurry? If I drive 45 in a 55 mile-per-hour zone and my speedy friend Don Day rushes along at 65, with Fred’s Diner our mutual destination 10 miles away, then Don “Mr. Speedy” Day will screech into Fred’s Diner in 9.2 minutes and I will roll into the parking lot after 13.3 minutes. So smug Don Day gets his coffee by the time I show up, so what? As long as we’re both traveling locally, the difference hardly matters. (I admit, however, that the difference adds up on a long trip. Ah, so what!)

I wonder what the other drivers are trying to accomplish in their great rush. Do they feel like competitors in an imaginary race, with every car they pass a vanquished and crumpled foe. Do their mouths taste bitter defeat when another driver passes them by?[4] Someone faster always comes along. But their high rate of speed delivers so little savings of time for the effort invested. Often after these aggressive race-car drivers recklessly reel past me, boiling with impatient rage, the angry blare of their horns warped by the exhausted ghost of Christian Doppler, I meet them at the next stoplight, and the next after that. How frustrating for them and amusing for me.

In all seriousness, I do understand. I used to drive like everyone else, rushing from place to place and cursing the old lizards as they turned in front of me and imposed their caution, their frailty, and their leisure unjustly upon me. I always had a mission, and I wanted to accomplish it and the next mission afterward as efficiently as possible. Rushing is a state of mind more than a calculated decision.

But I spent my whole youth in a rush, and now I’m done. Now I want to enjoy the flavor of life, to savor the precious little things. Yes, I annoy the vast majority of my fellow drivers, but one day they’ll look over and see Big Boy or his future equivalent winking past. If they’re lucky!

[1] Kaylee or Kylie, I can never get it right.

[2] I must give special thanks to EZStrete for helping me to collect my thoughts on this subject. EZStrete. “Why Do Old People Drive so Slow? – Straight Dope Message Board.” Straight Dope Message Board RSS. Sun-Times Media, LLC, 11 May 2002. Web. 13 Sept. 2013. http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=114550

[3] Ashbrook, Tom. “Elderly Drivers: Taking the Keys?” On Point with Tom Ashbrook. Trustees of Boston University, 17 Nov. 2010. Web. 13 Sept. 2013. <http://onpoint.wbur.org/2010/11/17/elderly-drivers

[4] Likely the defeated driver only despises a loss by someone below their station. For example, a Camaro driver might not mind when a Ferari passes him, but he would show a 1994 Ford Astro minivan zipping past that his Camaro is not a car to scorn. Should he speed up to overtake the Astro and fail, then the bitterness might drive the Camaro driver to pull to the edge of the road to flagellate himself in the ditch.

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9 thoughts on “Why We Old People Drive So Slowly

  1. People speed past you old people because usually people are trying to go to work and when slow drivers drive 10 miles under the speed limit, it makes people late that’s why most people hate old drivers. Yeah there are some people who speed just to speed but usually people have a good reason to be pissed off about it. Also I’m so tired of old people not watching the road when turning out and having to avoid being hit by them or slamming the brakes because an old person randomly starts veering into my lane with out even using their turn signals. Then there are the old people who don’t understand the concept of slower traffic stay in the right lanes. It’s just annoying in general being stuck behind someone who is too afraid to even go the speed limit, if you are so afraid or feel your vision is that impaired, then you shouldn’t be driving to begin with.

    • I see what you’re saying, but between the lines I see something more. It sounds like someone very special might have hurt you long ago, maybe broke your heart, and that person must have been a slow driver.

      I’m very sorry that you were hurt in the past by someone whom you loved so dearly and who drove so slowly, someone who tore apart your heart and tossed it on the cold, open road without a care in the world. I feel so sad that you must drive through these dark and lonely highways aching from such grief, and that when you’re stuck behind a slow driver those old wounds bleed all over again.

      Life is full of lonely people, my poor friend. I hope that you meet that special someone who can heal your broken heart and bring joy to your life’s journey once again. I know you can do it! I know that you’ll find your truest love!

  2. So in other words, you are a selfish prick that sees no harm in forcing your warped epiphany on everybody that has the misfortune of getting near you on the road. You must be a fucking yankee of some sort.

  3. Driving 10MPH under the speed limit is a danger to everyone. Some people have things to do…like get to their job on time.. something seniors seem to forget is having shit to do.. driving slow as hell increases risk of collisions because you are pissing people off – they tend to drive quicker because of YOU. They were originally only trying to go the speed limit ….. if you need to drive 10MPH under the limit because you feel your car is growing and your reaction time is altered you shouldn’t be driving at all. Plain and simple. Common sense.

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