By this coming spring or summer, it’s quite possible that I may once again be driving…before I’ve entirely recovered my ability to walk properly. That’s not too odd, since driving has been an important part of my life for a very long time, whether cars, motorbikes, or trucks; I even drove a forklift for a while, back when I was 18 or so.
My driver’s license comes up for renewal within a month either side of my birthday at the end of March. Before I can get it renewed, I have to pass the recently-mandated senior drivers’ evaluation. This involves going to a nearby driving school, listening to a safety lecture, passing a vision test, and doing a 10-minute practical driving session with an instructor/evaluator.
The requirement for evaluating older drivers’ physical and mental condition was prompted by numerous high-profile traffic accidents involving seniors, including fairly numerous incidents—sometimes resulting in tragedy--of hitting the accelerator instead of the brake, and a few highly publicized cases of older drivers going the wrong way on expressways.
Driving the wrong way on an expressway is something of a feat, actually: virtually all exits have toll booths that should severely impede if not prevent entry, and entering the roadway from service/parking areas in the wrong direction is not something done out of merely slight confusion.
I haven’t reached that level of confusion yet, and my reflexes are still quite good. My judgement is as good as it ever was…I’ll wait until the laughter dies down on that last one.
I am, however, still recuperating and rehabilitating from being mostly bed-ridden for nearly a year. This time last year, I could barely stand up even with assistance. These days my mobility has improved greatly, but I’m still not able, while seated, to raise my right leg as high, or move it as quickly, as I would like. This worried me when I got the notice about appearing for the senior driving evaluation: I cannot pick up and move that right foot from the gas to the brake and back fast enough to make driving feasible. Not yet, anyway.
So, while my and the therapists’ and other rehab-related folks’ efforts are aimed at returning me to full mobility—or as close to it as possible—the immediate focus is on devising a strategy and tactics for making driving practical (and safe, of course). With the cooperation of my house-call therapist I’ve discovered that swiveling my foot at the heel is quite sufficient to deal with the gas and brake pedals on his kei-sized company car, and—since he very kindly drove his personal vehicle the other day so that I could try it—on a Toyota Voxy, as well. This swiveling motion, somewhat as in “heel & toe shifting”, is fine as long as the pedals aren’t too far apart, or too different in height from the floorboard. Using the walker when entering and exiting the car works pretty smoothly, too.
Next week, I’ll be trying out my own car, despite not being too sanguine about my chances. Shimada-san, my friend the mechanic, who has for many years been selling us used and new cars and bikes, and insurance, and along with his brother fixing our vehicles, too, has been taking care of my car since I entered the hospital. He went down to Tokyo to pick it up from the parking lot where I’d left it when I broke my leg and started my long hospital stay, and he’s been keeping it safe and starting it once in a while until I’m ready to drive it again. The car, a 2014 Suzuki Escudo, is an AWD compact SUV, and while its legroom is a plus, its height from the ground may prove a bit challenging for entry and egress. The gas and brake pedal configuration may cause some difficulty, too. We’ll see what happens next week.
Whether it’s in my own car or a rented or borrowed one, there is a fairly strong possibility that I may soon end up being able to drive quite competently and safely while still needing a walker (or maybe a cane, depending on near-future rehab progress). If so, it will be thanks to the efforts of the very dedicated PTs and my other valued supporters, and of course partly due to my own determination. Or my, well…drive.