Decades ago, my ex and I would be driving along some dark Vermont road at night when suddenly she would exclaim “Put on some lights!” Her demand was usually directed at some unsuspecting ambulatory individual alongside the road, innocently making their way without a shred of reflective material on their person. My night vision has always been relatively good while driving. Her night vision was probably compromised at the time. That was due to a minor genetic issue with her depth perception. The problem was diagnosed by an American Optical research doctor whom I had befriended on Cape Cod. Regardless, “Put on some lights!” became a common theme in our driving discourse.
I have an elderly friend who recently moved to Vermont, and she has trouble driving at night. This happens quite frequently as we age. Her awareness of her poor night vision keeps her off the roads well before dark because she does not want to hit a bicyclist or pedestrian. I give her high marks for thinking of the other person rather than herself. There are plenty of drivers out there who cop a very selfish attitude concerning their driving. My advice is to take a moment to think about the other person sharing the road. If you want to preserve your independence and protect your driving privileges, stay off the roads when you are having difficulty with night driving.
I think it was in the summer of 1964, while visiting my grandparents in Ludlow, when my cousins and I witnessed the last time gramps drove his car. We had gone to the movies, and my grandmother had insisted that we not walk home in the dark, so she sent my grandfather to pick us up. I will never forget the car. It was a white Ford Galaxie two-door with this oddly colored coral interior. My cousins and I piled into the back seat on Main Street. Gramps took the right-hand turn onto Elm street and we were suddenly bumper-to-wood with a white picket fence belonging to the big brick house on the corner. There was no damage to the car or the fence, but I had never seen my grandfather turn red from embarrassment to quite that degree. He backed out of the residence’s front yard and we proceeded home at a snail’s pace.
My grandfather was a real gentleman and such an incident affected him deeply, enough that he never drove a motor vehicle again. He gave the car to my cousin Blake a few days later, and the incident was forgotten. I have a lot of respect for my grandfather’s decision to hang up his car keys. In those days family members lived close by and could offer transportation to my grandparents at any time, so the hardship was not as acute as it would be for much of the population today. Families do not always live nearby nowadays.
Vermont’s aging population will pose more challenges for transportation as the last of the baby boom generation ages out. There are a lot of us and we depend greatly on our mobility. More than a few with poor night driving vision will continue to drive beyond what would be considered safe. My advice to those who walk and ride bicycles is to put on some lights. Wear reflective clothing, and avail yourself of battery-powered LED lighting. I’m seeing some great lighting being used by the majority of bicyclists these days and it is much appreciated. Pedestrians? Not so much. I urge those who walk or run in low light to emulate the folks riding bicycles. Get the flashing lights and affix them to your arms, legs, neck, and head ... seriously. It will get more dangerous for you in the coming years, so you might as well adopt a proactive visibility policy to keep from getting hit.
I am squarely in that aging group who will have greater difficulties seeing in low light. I don’t want to be the guy who hurts someone because I chose to drive when I should not. A combination of voluntary low light driving abstinence on our part and greater visibility on the part of those who walk and ride just might make it safer for all of us.