Why I Don’t Drive at Night
The eyes had it, but they lost it
Photo by Barna Bartis on Unsplash
It had been a crazy week for my wife. On Friday she flew to Cincinnati to visit her mother. Now she was flying home Wednesday night for a brief layover in her own bed, followed the next day by a drive to New York City with my oldest granddaughter. My assignment was to pick her up at the airport.
I have done the airport run many times before. Since parking at the terminal is verboten, the goal is to find the “cellphone lot,” where loved ones and their cars can wait until their intendeds actually land, locate their baggage, and send them the activating signal. It was dark, and although I was familiar with the route, I got confused and took a left turn about 100 yards too soon. Immediately I realized my mistake. At the next intersection, I made a U-turn — and the crunching sounds coming from below the floorboards let me know that I had run over something low, hard, and invisible. Or invisible to me, at least.
I drove on to the cellphone lot, parked, and peered under the car to inspect the damage. (Did I mention it was dark?) All I could see was a plastic cover dragging on the ground.
Because my wife’s flight was delayed a few minutes, I had just enough time for a brief but meaningful anxiety attack. What have I done? She can’t drive to New York tomorrow with plastic scraping the pavement! How can I clean up this mess I’ve made?
By the time I gathered up my wife and her suitcase, I had formulated a plan. In the morning, I would hustle the car to the mechanic near our house to get the damage report. Just in case it was not a simple 10-minute fix, I would also rent a car that my wife could drive to New York. She approved the plan. Major disaster averted.
Now, where I got the idea that there even was such a thing as a 10-minute fix to a car is a mystery. Wishful thinking, I suppose. Needless to say, the diagnosis was far different. According to the mechanics, not one but seven different plastic covers had to be replaced, to the tune of $1,250. And of course, the parts were not in stock, so it would be another five days. (The rental car is starting to look like genius at this point.) And also, by the way, the car could really use new coolant, tire rotation, front-end alignment, and some kind of air filter inside the vehicle, which would add a mere $1,600 more to the bill.
In the bitter argument that followed, I came to appreciate that the mechanics are nothing if not thorough, endeavouring to give Rolls Royce quality car care to all their customers. But since my Prius doesn’t need Rolls Royce care, I respectfully declined the additional services. Net net, the final damage report for my errant left turn, including car repairs and car rental, came to nearly $2,000.
And that is why I no longer drive at night. I can’t afford it. There’s also the matter of safety — for myself and for others. My ability to see at night is thoroughly compromised.
While You Were Out
The weakening of my night vision is not a total surprise. It’s one of those reassuring signs that my aging is proceeding according to plan, like it or not.
It seems my eyes have been experiencing subtle changes for a while (and I hate to break it to you, but so have yours). Our pupils are slowly shrinking, and they don’t dilate in the dark as much as they once did. Our retinas, meanwhile, are receiving far less light. When an 80-year-old drives at night, he can see about as well as if he were wearing sunglasses.
And then there’s the cornea and lens, which are becoming less clear. That causes light to scatter inside the eye, which increases glare. These same changes reduce contrast sensitivity, which means we find it harder to pick up subtle differences in brightness and — bottom line — makes it harder for us to see objects on the road at night.
I didn’t need to wait until I ran over a dog or hit a deer or mangled my way into another $2,000 fender bender. It was time for me to take off my night sunglasses and leave the driving to someone else. This comes with certain inconveniences, of course, but it’s a necessary adaptation to reality.
The American Optometric Association recommends that adults over 60 get an annual eye examination to stay abreast of changes to our eyes. Annual exams also are the best bet for early detection of other serious vision problems such as macular degeneration, cataracts, dry eye, and glaucoma. Older adults are likely candidates for any of them.
I am still confident in my daylight driving – so far, anyway – but I’m also keeping a close watch for other warning signs that I am no longer the kind of driver that my insurance company and I want to bet on:
· Not seeing road signs clearly.
· Difficulty seeing objects up close, such as the instrument panel.
· Trouble judging distances and speed.
· Difficulty adapting to bright sunlight or the glare of headlights.
· Losing peripheral vision.
· Trouble perceiving colors.
For now, I am overflowing with gratitude that my eyes are good enough to read and to perform the hundreds of other daily tasks for which I depend on them. May we all have both the good sense to acknowledge when our systems are no longer up to par and the good cheer to let go and adapt.
Let me highly recommend The EndGame newsletter, written by Don Akchin. If you are of a considerable age, you’ll receive news, views, and encouragement — everything you need to know without having to do your own research.
Thanks for being here for another Sunday story.