Why do old people stop learning to drive?

"The pensioners who should really come are not coming"

BERLIN. The day Christa Fischer rammed the curb was one of her worst. It wasn't scratched. But when she stood there and the ADAC men drove away the wreckage of their red Mazda, she suddenly realized that the time had come.

The time that she had always pushed aside: Christa Fischer had just wrecked her last car. Total loss. Her eyes were probably worse than she'd thought. And at her age she shouldn't buy a new car anymore. Christa Fischer was 90 years old at the time.

"I feel like I have been amputated"

The Berliner is now 92 and sits in a senior citizens' center, where she gives gymnastics courses to pensioners. They often ask what it's like without a car. Then she always says: "I feel like I have been amputated." She laughs out loud, as she always does when she says something unpleasant. "At that time, after this boom, I looked towards the end." She pauses. "But the end is still a long way off. I'm still pretty well together. If only it weren't for my eyes."

The eyes. When they see less and less, many older drivers drive increasingly unsafe. Many hear worse, react more slowly, and can no longer look over their shoulders. Some medications also interfere with your journey.

And although many drive more carefully, people over the age of 75 cause a disproportionately high number of serious accidents. This is shown by figures from the Federal Statistical Office. People over the age of 75 are to blame for three out of four accidents with fatalities and injuries in which they are involved. And since people are living longer and longer, there will be even more accidents with senior citizens in the future, explain the accident researchers at the insurers.

Fischer says: "Some do not notice that their strength is weakening." She laughs. "But I'll probably miss my car until the end." For them, the car meant freedom and travel across Europe.

Check-up is compulsory elsewhere

Ulrich Mehl has also driven tens of thousands of kilometers in his life. The 74-year-old is now tired of the many vehicles and people in downtown Berlin. So he decided to do a voluntary driving fitness check, where he drives through the streets with a driving instructor like an exam. Then the expert gives tips. But he cannot take away his driver's license.

This is different in many countries: older Swiss, Italians, Czechs, New Zealanders and Canadians, for example, have to have a health or eye test every few years. In some states, the doctor can send them for a driving test - if they fail, the driver's license is gone.

In Germany, however, neither politicians nor car clubs want to force insecure pensioners to quit. Instead, they appeal to their own responsibility. You know the love of the car and the dependence on it.

3300 seniors did voluntary check-ups

Around 3,300 older motorists made voluntary feedback drives in Germany last year with experts from the ADAC and ACE car clubs. Almost 83,000 others have attended a "Safe Mobile" course for senior citizens organized by the German Road Safety Council, where they learn, for example, how to switch from cars to public transport.

Before Mehl's driving fitness check, driving instructor Uwe Bocher asks: "Are you nervous?" - "A little bit." Mehl drives off safely, then hits an intersection with a lot of traffic. Pedestrians run over when it is red. A bus comes from the side, bicycles too. Flour is green. He hesitates. They honk behind him. "Always those pushers," says Mehl as he drives off.

"That was a little close," says Bocher calmly. "I would have waited a little longer. If something happens, you have the problem. Don't let them disturb you." Suddenly it beeps. "What was that?" - "The distance meter - there was probably an object there."

The driving instructor says that the sounds of many assistance systems confuse seniors. The journey continues to the district where Mehl lives. At a junction, Bocher asks: "Do you have right of way?" - "Yes," replies Mehl. "No," says Bocher and explains that the traffic signs were recently replaced there.

Difficulty letting go

He has been offering feedback drives for seniors for seven years. His conclusion: "The pensioners who should really come are not coming." Quitting will be easy for Ulrich Mehl. He now mostly travels by train or bus. "It's more comfortable at my age."

Christa Fischer, on the other hand, finds the taxi more pleasant. She always sits next to the driver. "Then I almost feel like I'm in my own car." The 92-year-old rummages in her handbag and takes her driver's license out of her wallet. She looks at the little card. "I can no longer see exactly what it says there."

She has always had her driver's license in her pocket since she received it at the age of 27. "My car was my friend." She smiles. Your hands are shaking slightly. "I have not driven since the accident, but it could be that one day I will need it again in an emergency." (dpa)