Question: My wife and I try to make one major trip abroad a year. This year we thought we would go to Northern Ireland in September, but every auto rental agency I've contacted has a maximum age for a car rental. I happen to be 82. Is there any way I can rent a car for this vacation?
--Jerry Gluck, Laguna Woods
Answer: This is what I love about travel. So much to learn, most of it fascinating. So many surprises, some of them aggravating. Like this one.
Although many of us know that it can be tough for someone younger than 25 to rent a car, who knew there could be upper-age limits on foreign car rental? Some car rental companies did, including Hertz, which posts this on its site: "The maximum age for Hertz rentals in Northern Ireland is 75 years. Customers aged between 76 and 79 years can rent with specific conditions (you must drive on a regular basis, you will need to provide to the counter a letter from your doctor to state you have been in good health for at least 12 months and a letter from your insurance company to state you have not had an accident within the last five years)."
We called around and there are some companies that will rent to older drivers in Northern Ireland, including Enterprise and Avis.
But some foreign countries do restrict rentals based on age, and that's important to know as more and more baby boomers start traveling in their golden years.
Medical experts I spoke with agree that although our reaction time slows as we get older, an outright ban on renting a car if you're beyond a certain age is just wrong.
"I resent anyone discriminating on the basis of age alone," says Dr. Robert Roush, an associate professor of medicine in the section of geriatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "It's functional age, not chronological age, that counts."
Dr. Malcolm Stewart, a neurologist at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, doesn't disagree, but the 66-year-old medical director of the hospital's Human Performance Lab recently ran into the age-car-rental issue abroad and decided to stick with buses and trains. He thinks the quality of his trip improved. "If I'm having to keep my eye on the road, I'm not seeing the countryside," he says.
True enough. Still, it sends shivers through my independent little soul when someone tells me I can't do something I know I can do. That makes me want to do it more. But how?
I liked this bit of encouragement from Sherb Brown, publisher of Auto Rental News: "In every market there's somebody who wants more business and won't say no."
If you do choose to drive, Dr. Patrick P. Coll, associate director of the Center on Aging at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, suggests: "Don't drink alcohol -- that's good advice for anyone, particularly if you're taking medications that might interact -- avoid driving during busy times of the day in urban areas and avoid driving late at night if you're in unfamiliar territory."
And, says Coll, a native of Northern Ireland, "Be on the lookout for sheep." Especially the ones that run rental car agencies.
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