SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG

A Menace Or A Matter Of Pride? When Miss Daisy Wants To Drive Herself

Should old people stick to a certain kind of wheels?
Should old people stick to a certain kind of wheels?
Gernot Sittner

-Essay-

MUNICH - The day comes in life when you realize you don’t really need a car anymore, you can take the train, or bus. The problem is: you may not want to.

It’s not as if retirement comes as a surprise, a sudden unexpected stroke of fate. We get a long time, many, many years, to prepare for it. And retirement by no means has to be a terrible thing – it has plenty of good sides.

Pre-retirement, I found myself thinking I was looking forward to not having to face the traffic jams every day when I drive to and from work, and in fact, why bother with a car at all. With the money saved, I could not only buy annual passes for the urban public transportation system but the train as well, and probably even a new bicycle. No more inspections, no more trips to the body shop to have bumps and scratches repaired, no more comparing prices at the pump. A bike doesn’t need winter tires. Not owning a car would mean a new kind of freedom and independence.

But it didn’t work out that way. Breaking old habits is harder than you think. While selling a car is not as constricting or irreversible as turning in a driver’s license, I found myself putting the decision off month after month. There are plenty of good reasons for a retiree to own a car, but now I am expected to schlep garden refuse to the recycling center in a wheelbarrow all of a sudden?

The answer to that question is yes.

After 300,000 kilometers (186,500 miles) my car developed gearbox problems that would have cost too much to make it worthwhile repairing. A buyer was willing to take the car off my hands, and I felt very sad the day it came time to turn the vehicle over to him.

I’ve been getting around by bike, and public transportation, for over a year now. But the question of whether or not to buy another car still preoccupies me. There are so many pros and cons.

The cost of purchase and maintenance aside, there is a school of ambient wisdom out there according to which older persons should not be allowed behind the wheel. Most of my contemporaries don’t see things that way, and according to statistics more than two-thirds of over-65s still have a driver’s license and use it. One third of persons in that age group indulge daily in what the experts refer to as “self-determined mobility.” Over two million Germans between the ages of 75 and 84 own a car. Thanks to changes in demographics and medical progress, the ranks of older car owners and drivers will only rise.

A four-wheeled menace

Yes, but, some folks say: older people don’t see as well, their memory’s going, their reaction time is slower, they’re just not as sharp anymore or as agile – even looking over their shoulder when necessary could pose a problem. In complicated traffic situations – say at a crossroads where determining who has right of way has to happen fast – they could be too slow, or make a mistake. Conclusion: older people behind the wheel pose a threat to other drivers and pedestrians.

Actually, experts don’t see it that way. "Older drivers are not a risk factor," a well-respected accident researcher asserted recently, and indeed older people are less involved than the other age groups in traffic accidents. Over-65s make up 20% (16 million) of the German population. They are the least involved in accidents with casualties, and have relatively few accidents caused by DUIs. On the other hand the statistics also tell us that when they do have an accident, the older they are, the higher the chances that they caused it. In 2010, for example, of accidents caused by drivers over 75, three in four were caused by the older driver.

I don’t find the statistics very helpful in helping me decide whether to buy another car or not. In the Munich metropolitan area where I live, it’s not absolutely necessary, even for hauling garden refuse. How many amenities does one really need, after all, shouldn’t one be cutting down? Etc.

Yet what keeps coming back again and again is that I believe that giving up a car would amount to a kind of capitulation. And I so enjoy the concentration and discipline of driving. Driving for me is a test of fitness.

My decision is my responsibility – as it is my responsibility if I cause an accident involving other people. In Germany, the experts are against mandatory testing of older drivers. They believe the preferable solution is to engage peoples’ own sense of responsibility to get regular check-ups and possibly sign up for one of the many courses given by automobile clubs – no harm in refreshing driving skills, particularly when, if they’re like me, they passed their driver’s license over 50 years ago.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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