Although the necessity of driving ultimately depends on where you live, there’s no denying the fact that being able to get behind the wheel of a vehicle and drive speaks volumes about a person’s independence.
Unfortunately, when a driver reaches an age where driving safely is becoming an issue, they have to grapple with the prospect of losing that freedom for good. Naturally, some people resist the pressure to give up their keys, assuring themselves they’re fit to drive until an accident shows them otherwise. Knowing when to give it up is just as much a part of being responsible as safe driving is in the first place.
The risks of old age and driving
Senior citizens (above the age of 65) account for approximately 9% of the American population. In spite of this, statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have indicated that senior drivers account for 14% of fatal traffic accidents and 17% of all pedestrian fatalities. Based on the same statistics, drivers past the age of 85 are a full four times more likely to create a fatal accident even than teenage drivers.
The elderly are unfortunately beset by a long list of potential issues that can hinder and impede driving performance. Reflexes, situational awareness and eye-to-hand coordination all gradually fade with age. This is often amplified by exacerbating factors such as Alzheimer’s disease, arthritic conditions and even medications which further detract from a driver’s ability.
Common issues with older drivers include reaction time problems and preventable mishaps such as placing pressure on the gas pedal instead of the brake. These simple slip-ups can result in major accidents.
The age-related problems with driving aren’t just mental either. In some cases, the physical ability to turn the wheel and correspond to stimuli promptly is beyond reach due to the age. Poor vision and cataracts can seriously impede a driver’s ability to gauge their surroundings accordingly.
Considering how the statistics weigh against senior drivers, there is an understandable outcry for increased restrictions to be placed on the elderly with driving; some petitions even look to have seniors past a certain age banned entirely. Everyone ages differently however, and a safe age to retire from driving may be years or decades apart from one person to another.
Is it time for you to stop driving?
Every driver past a certain age asks themselves if they’re still in a state where they should keep driving. The best answer to that question can be affected by so many things, from the individual’s age and medical history down to their driving record. As it is with many things, your mileage will vary.
Many of the seniors who voluntarily give up their keys do so because they’ve gotten into minor accidents and close calls. Your recent driving performance can say a fair amount about whether you’re still fit to drive or not.
Take a moment to reflect on your driving history. Have there been any incidents on the road that have made you wonder about this? Even something like a minor fender bender can be a sign to turn it in if it’s clear the accident should have been easily prevented. Personal pride and an unwillingness to accept the truth can factor into this equation, but it is important to be able to be honest about your own abilities.
Regardless of your personal judgement, you should make an appointment with your doctor to have your sights and reflexes tested. Having a professional, impartial opinion will often put stubborn desires to keep driving in their place. Depending on the state you live in, these age-related checkups may be necessary in order for your license to be renewed. In California for example, seniors past the age of 70 must renew their license in person every 5 years to reassess their abilities.
Medications can making driving testier than usual; this is true even regardless of age. As seniors tend to take meds more than the rest of the population however, this is as important a factor to consider as the rest of it. Generally speaking, the more medications you’re taking, the more you may want to hesitate before moving forward with driving.
If you’re unsure of the side effects of given medications, ask your doctor about them with regards to driving. If you’re starting a new medication and aren’t sure how it will affect you, give it some time to adjust on you before jumping behind the wheel again.
Unsurprisingly, your longevity as a driver is tied in with your overall health. Seniors who maintain regular physical exercise are almost certainly bound to last longer behind the wheel than their sedentary counterparts. While there will inevitably come a point where you won’t be able to reasonably keep up with the pressures of driving, a senior should be able to reasonably expect at least five extra years behind the wheel with the proper amount of physical health and fitness.
Getting around after giving up your keys
Although it’s natural to think first of the blow this transition can have on one’s independence, there’s still the practical issue to consider of how you’ll be getting around going forward. For starters, many of the options available to non-drivers can be used to some effect. Public transit, taxi cabs and private transport are possibilities; while certain options depend a lot on the sort of money you’ve got at your disposal, selling your car can help you pay for the alternate means of transportation.
Seniors with a family who give in their keys may be able to rely on their adult children and younger friends to drive them around. Even if a senior has this family option open to them, the feeling of becoming increasingly dependent on loved ones can be emotionally taxing, particularly for those who prided themselves on their independence. Nonetheless, if you are retiring from driving, it is helpful to openly discuss the issue with your family.
It should go without saying, but your means of transportation without a car will depend entirely on the area you live in. Typically speaking, rural regions with a lower density sprawl will make it tougher to get around than a tight knit city setting. Seniors who live within reach of a strong transit system and are able-bodied enough to utilize it may find public transportation to be a fitting alternative to driving.
Retirement homes often operate shuttle bus services to take their patrons to and from popular locations; while these locales are typically predetermined by the management, these shuttle services should be complementary and may apply to at least some of your desired trips.
As frustrating as it can be for non-drivers, 20th century urban planning in the United States has been based partly around the assumption that people living in a city will have a car to get around. Older U.S. cities (such as New York and Boston) were developed before the advent of the car; as a result, they still tend to be more accessible for people by foot and transit. By contrast, newer cities on the west coast (such as Los Angeles) make it difficult on people who don’t drive. These are bigger issues with far-reaching implications, but they will definitely affect your options for good or bad if you decide to hand in your car keys.
On a positive note, the entire notion of “giving up your car keys” may become outdated sooner than you think. With the rise of self-driving car technology, the human element and age-associated risks will be removed from the equation. The benefits of this technology will arguably be greatest for the elderly and disabled, as well as anyone else who would face difficulty driving a car manually.
It may still be a decade or two before self-driving cars become reasonably attainable, but there’s no doubt it’s already on its way; even Google has announced plans of hopping on the self-driving tech bandwagon. Giving up your car keys can be a tough transition for some people to make, but from what we know of the future, this whole topic could become a non-issue before long.