Monday, July 27, 2009

They brake for no one

Imagine that you do something all of your life. Everyday. Say, brush your teeth. Then one day, for some inexplicable reason, you squeeze out your toothpaste onto the bristles and start cleaning your ears. It seems odd to you at first, but rather than stop, you start brushing even faster. With suds foaming out of the side of your head like a washing machine with too much detergent, you brush faster and faster and faster until you get so dizzy that you pass out, bumping your head on the sink, commode, tub and finally the floor.

Discovering you on the bathroom floor, your spouse asks you what happened and you say that you brushed your teeth and then don’t remember anything.

This is what, apparently, is happening to elderly drivers who seem to be testing the limits of a couple of Newton’s Laws and the structural properties of plate glass windows, brick walled retail establishments, and other people.

A spate of these crashes in Massachusetts has the state legislature considering mandatory testing of elderly drivers. As introduced, the bill calls for drivers 85 and older to submit to annual skills testing. There already is such a law in New Hampshire, where the state motto, “Live Free or Die,” was being taken a little too literally by their blue hairs.

Of course, 85 is simply an age that was chosen to get the bill passed. Who would argue that 85 is too onerous? Once it becomes law, a simple modification will change that to 75 or perhaps even younger.

So what’s the test going to be like?

“Okay, Mr. O’Flaherty, I’m going to ask you a few questions before we head out for the road test. Does that sound all right?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ve been driving all my life, missy. Since before your mother was a twinkle in her father’s eye.”

“All right, Mr. O’Flaherty. Do you remember what you had for breakfast this morning?”

“Same thing I have every morning. Two cups of black coffee and dry toast.”

“Do you hold your coffee cup with your left hand or your right hand?”

“Always with my left hand.”

“Do you ever get the urge to hold your coffee cup with your right hand, Mr. O’Flaherty?”

“Okay, Ms. Smarty Pants. I see where you’re going with this. I know which pedal is the gas and which is the brake.”

“Right.”

“Right? That would be the br… No. The gas. Everyone knows that.”

“Knows what, Mr. Flaherty?”

“That the brake is on the right. I mean left. Dammit! You’re confusing me.”

The problem with driver testing is that it’s unlikely to create the panic situation that occurs when an octogenarian first mistakes the gas for the brake. The car leaps forward unexpectedly and all the driver can think about is mashing the brake pedal even harder. Unfortunately, that brake pedal races the engine to about 8,000 rpm while the other brake pedal remains untouched.

That’s it! The perfect solution to stop this problem once and for all.

When someone turns 75, a state-employed mechanic sneaks into the garage during the birthday party and replaces the gas pedal with a second brake pedal. That way, the worst possible outcome would be letting off of one of the brake pedals causing the car to creep forward, certain to be stopped by any run-of-the-mill brick wall, most curbs, and even a small calf.

Why didn’t I think of this before? Gotta call my state rep to get my idea added to the Geezer Squeezer Law.

See you next week. Drive safely.

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