Health & Family

Giving up the wheel

It's something every child hates to tell an aging parent: You really need to stop driving.

When vision, mobility and reaction time decline to unsafe levels, older adults and their children need to talk frankly about giving up the car keys and getting around with help from others.

Mario Santiz Jr. knows how hard that conversation can be.

His father, Mario Santiz Sr., drove his gold Lincoln town car to work every day.

Even after he developed pancreatic cancer at 74, he drove himself to chemotherapy – then on to the bank where he was senior vice president.

In 2000, Santiz Sr. sideswiped a parked car as he drove past a school near his home.

It's not safe for you to drive anymore, Santiz Jr. told his dad. You could hit a child. I'll drive you to work.

His father's response?

“He really got mad,” says Santiz, 53, of Indian Trail. “He said, ‘Don't take my independence away. You're going to kill me.'” His dad even denied hitting the car.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Howard Setzer says Santiz's father would have benefitted from the AARP Driver Safety class he teaches. The eight-hour course shows the effects of age on driving and teaches older adults how to compensate.

“The crux of the class,” Setzer says, “is to help people not have a crash,” which is exactly what happened to Santiz's dad.

Despite pleading from his son, the father continued to drive, and even scraped a few more cars before hitting a van head-on in the school zone. The low-speed crash caused minor injuries and finally convinced the elder Santiz to stop driving.

“I hope when I get to that age,” his son says, “that I remember this” – and give up the keys sooner.