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Behind the wheel at 60

Learners performing routine tasks at a driving circuit in Ipoh


Madam Susila arrives at a driving institute in Ipoh, Perak feeling nervous. This is her first time there. She is 47 years old and a recent widow.

He husband had died four months ago in his car during an outing with the family. He was driving through Ipoh town when he suddenly complained of pain in the throat area. He pulled over to one side of a quiet road to take a short rest but went limp soon after.

Susila called for an ambulance immediately and medical personnel took her husband's body to the hospital.

The grieving widow and her three sons were left to sort out the affairs of the deceased man. It hit Susila then -- "I don't know how to drive," she recoiled in horror.

She discussed her concern with the boys and they agreed with her decision to enrol into a driving school. It must be said that Susila had wanted to take up driving as a young bride but her husband discouraged her, saying "I will be the driver in this family".

Sixty-year-old Salmah had done 10 hours at the same driving institute -- six at the circuit learning all the required steps and four on the road. Since her driving test is due in a week's time, she is busy trying to overcome her weaknesses after signing up for extra hours.

She is tired but happy with the little progress that she has achieved so far.

Then it is time for the drive on the main road outside the circuit. She feels apprehensive about this component of her lesson because she is  not very confident about driving beyond the safety of the driving school's premises  and would like to spend more time on this.

As she drives  along the designated route for learners of the institute, her instructor tells her to change lanes before approaching a traffic light. For some unknown reason ("maybe it was stress", she later concluded), Salmah worked the steering wheel as she would turning a corner.

Thankfully, nothing happened and she managed to get onto the right lane but she felt traumatised and upset with herself for being negligent. That was very dangerous, said her instructor, who was visibly annoyed with her student. Salmah agreed and remained in a state of shock throughout the rest of the journey back to the school.

She went home feeling disgusted with her herself and after a heart to heart talk with her husband decided to postpone the test and to take it easy for a while. She is not giving up on her ambition but wants to contemplate on her next move.

These two learners are examples of women who are taking up driving at a later stage of their lives.

According to a female driving instructor, many of these golden learners are widows like Susila who feel restrained by their inability to drive after the deaths of their husbands. They cannot rely on their children for transport and it is expensive to take taxis.

Necessity is their motivation.

Salmah became alarmed when her husband fainted some months ago and there was no one to take him to the hospital. She made several frantic calls to relatives and friends pleading with them to help her out. Fortunately, her niece was free to take her uncle to the hospital. "I must learn to drive," she told herself then.

Learning to drive at a later age has its own set of complexities. Driving instructors at the institute are reluctant to train older learners because they are "hard to teach". "They are slow to grasp new skills unlike young adults," says a grumpy female instructor, who refuses to accept learners over 40.

"They ask too many questions and want to know this and that," complains another.

It is the same story overseas.

A foreign driving instructor was quoted as saying in this article that "students who started later in life do tend to require more lessons". "Younger people are either still studying or it hasn't been long since they were in education, so their brains are like sponges."

Statistics are not immediately available but young learners outnumber those over 40 at driving schools throughout Malaysia. Anyone who has been to a local driving institute will tell you that.

The foreign instructor adds that though the process may take longer than expected, older learners will get there in the end, if they want it badly enough and exercise patience.

Many agree that being able to drive is a great skill to acquire. Both Susila and Salmah realise that now and they won't quit because their dream is to obtain valid driving licences.


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