To drive or not to drive? That is the question (for senior citizens)...
Watch out for the little old man hobbling along with his walker the next time you're at the store -- he could be dangerous.
Dangerous on the road, that is.
Batavia resident Catherine Roth said she has seen a number of people out in public -- most of them senior citizens -- who drive even though they shouldn't.
"I once saw this man who could barely walk, and he's got an SUV!" Roth said.
Roth is well-known in Batavia for voicing her concerns about elderly drivers. This started with the death of her 30-year-old son almost 20 years ago.
Jim Roth was killed in October 1991 by an 81-year-old man driving the wrong way on Route 481 in Syracuse.
Catherine and her husband, who died two years ago, both worked hard to toughen the rules regarding elderly citizens on the road. Roth defends her position by citing laws in other states -- including "Katie's Law" in Texas, and a New Hampshire law requiring drivers over 65 to be tested every five years -- that regulate and limit senior drivers.
She has caught wind of some resistance to her efforts among Batavia's older population, but she sticks to her guns nonetheless.
"We have all these laws for young drivers," Roth said, "but when we talk about laws for elderly drivers, forget it!"
The trouble is, Roth has come to the point where she herself might have to surrender her place behind the wheel. She will be 90 years old soon, and has concerns about whether or not she should still be driving.
"I've been thinking about giving up driving for the past several years," she said. "When I realized I would be turning 90 and that my license was going to expire (this month), I realized I had to decide whether to renew the license or quit driving."
Roth said she doesn't have any specific problems that compromise her ability to drive safely, but she worries that "reaction time" might slow with age.
"Right now I drive as little as possible," she said. "I drive to Stafford three or four times a week to work at the museum. Everone who's rode with me has said I'm a good driver. But I've already begun to explore different ways of getting around (like taking a taxi)."
Roth actually asked to be re-tested to see if her driving skills were up to par -- her request was denied.
At this point in time, New York State has no system set up for that sort of thing. Re-taking the driver's test is only possible for those who have been reported.
This is an important issue for Roth, because better testing for senior drivers is one of the reforms she and her husband pushed for over the years.
"A lot of times, all it seems to depend on is eyesight," she said. "If someone's eyesight is good, he can mail in his license and get it renewed. That's just wrong!"
She then pointed out that the person in question could have very good eyesight, but at the same time barely have the ability to walk.
Sometimes, according to Roth, even a doctor's caution is unhelpful.
"If their doctor tells them they shouldn't drive, they'll go to a different doctor."
Roth understands seniors' reluctance to give up their licenses and, by extension, their independence.
"I've been without a car for the past week, and it's been driving me nuts!" she said.
Most of Roth's friends are in their 80s and in the same boat. She is far from unsympathetic to the tough decision facing older drivers.
"I know you want your independence -- but darn it, don't kill my son or anyone else."
She shared some recommendations for seniors who would like to continue driving, but not be a danger to other drivers: don't drive at night; avoid streets near schools around the end of the school day; and avoid big cities.
In addition, she listed some decent alternatives to driving for seniors who still need to get around.
"The Office for the Aging has some good programs," she said. "And you can take a taxi in Batavia for about $5. And then there's always the option of turning to friends, but you try not to bother people for little things.
"It's best to do all of your errands in one trip (so you don't have to call your friends whenever, for instance, you need some milk). You try to keep your independence, even if you have to be dependent in some ways."
ADDITIONAL FACTS ABOUT ROTH:
Roth is on the Board of Trustees for the Stafford Historical Society, and just finished -- after nine years -- serving on the Board of Trustees for Batavia's First Presbyterian Church. She is also a volunteer at the Batavia Cemetery.
A most interesting fact about her is that she is a triplet. She and her two sisters will be celebrating their 90th birthday very shortly.
"As far as we know, we're the oldest living triplets in the United States," Roth said.