When you’re a teenager, getting your license is a major step toward independence. Though you’ve gone through more changes than you probably care to remember since your teenage days, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed. Your car still feels like your ticket to freedom, like your best connection to the world beyond your doorstep. That’s what makes it so difficult to make the decision to stop driving.
Unfortunately for many older Americans, the realities of aging can make driving increasingly challenging and even dangerous. And yet, the number of motorists over the age of 65 is growing all the time. According to USA Today, by 2030, 85 to 90% of seniors will have driver’s licenses. This is a considerable jump from the roughly 33 million Americans, 65 and older, who were on the road as of 2009.
The positive side of this increase is the fact that Americans are living longer and healthier lives, but it also means that a significant number of seniors continue to drive in spite of growing sensory or physical limitations. Knowing that it’s time to get out of the driver seat is not easy but for many, it’s the only safe option.
So when should seniors stop driving? An article in the Star Ledger offers some tips for determining if the time to stop driving is now.
As we get older, our senses can lose some of their precision. This means that we may not see or hear as well as we used to. This can pose a serious challenge on the highway, where your ability to recognize and respond to sudden danger or inclement conditions is tantamount to your safety and the safety of others. The same is true for declining reflexes, which can reduce the reaction time necessary to avoid accidents. If you notice that your eyes are straining to adjust, that you have particular difficulty using your peripheral vision, that you can’t read traffic signs clearly or that you aren’t alert to the sound of honking, sirens or other road sounds, it may be time to consider hanging up your keys.
Driving is a physical activity that engages your whole body. So when illness, injury or chronic conditions impede your mobility, your driving abilities could suffer. The Star Ledger points out that conditions such as arthritis may make it difficult to effectively grip the wheel, turn your head to check your mirrors or break in a timely fashion. Health concerns such as Parkinson’s or other degenerative muscular conditions can also lead to tremors or other episodes that might cause an accident. If you find that your physical health is impeding your mobility, consult your physician to determine if you are healthy enough to continue driving.
One of the most difficult signs to accept is a decline in your ability to reason behind the wheel As a driver, you must make snap decisions and quick judgments. However, declining mental dexterity could become an obstacle. If you find yourself frequently getting turned around or lost, it may not be safe to drive on your own anymore. If you are the primary caregiver for somebody who is showing signs of dementia, it may fall upon you to recommend alternatives to driving.
When To Intervene
An article in Caring.com points out that giving up driving is one of the hardest things for an aging individual to accept. The article notes that, as a caretaker, you shouldn’t be hasty in depriving your loved one of the right to drive. This can be a serious blow to morale, but when it becomes clear to you that the safety concerns overshadow the emotional consequences, it is important to take action for the well-being of your loved one.