The ability to drive can be essential to the quality of life for many seniors. It can be an important factor in reducing social isolation, and helps them to stay independent. While seniors are statistically some of the safest drivers on the road, they’re also the most likely to get hurt or even killed in car accidents.
Unfortunately, there comes a time to ask yourself a very important question: “Should I still be driving?” Whether you narrowly escaped a close call or noticed that driving is a little more difficult, this question can be a life or death matter. When you’re figuring out how to answer, there are a few things to consider.
Do I Need To Drive?
If you don’t need to drive anymore, it may be considerably easier to give up your keys. There are several reasons why you may not need to:
- You live in a retirement community or care facility where most of your needs are met on site
- You live where it’s easy (and healthy!) to walk places you need to go, like the grocery store or barber
- You have access to public transit or other ways to get around
If there aren’t any safety concerns, you may want to consider keeping your license so driving remains an option when necessary.
Eyesight and Hearing
If your senses have diminished at all, driving can be extremely dangerous. Among all the other senses, eyesight is important to driving safely. As we age, it’s natural that our eyesight will weaken. This can lead to difficulty reading road signs, judging distance and speed, and a loss of peripheral vision. Night driving can be extremely dangerous for seniors who experience vision impairment.
Your hearing is another sense that helps you be safe on the road. While difficulty hearing may not be as dangerous as vision impairment (especially if you have a hearing aid), it should be considered when debating whether you should drive. Hearing loss can cause you to miss sirens or car horns, putting you in a dangerous situation. You may also miss unusual noises that can help you identify issues with your car.
If your vision or hearing has weakened enough where it has begun to affect your diving, please visit an optometrist or an audiologist. These doctors can test your vision and hearing and suggest whether you should be driving.
Are You Well Enough to Drive?
The next consideration you should make is whether you are physically well enough to drive. As we age, our body begins to slow down. Your reaction time can mean the difference between a near-accident and thousands of dollars in damage, or worse. Arthritis or muscle weakness may make it harder to drive safely, too. It’s possible to manage these issues if you must drive, but it may not be enough for everyone.
Certain illnesses or medications may also make it difficult or dangerous to drive. In these cases, your physician may advise you to give up driving. Memory-related diseases like dementia make driving to the store dangerous, while sleep apnea puts you at risk for falling asleep behind the wheel. There are many conditions that make driving hazardous so consult your physician if you suffer from any diagnoses.
Even if an illness doesn’t make driving risky, your medication may.
Even if an illness doesn’t make driving risky, your medication may. When getting a new prescription, talk to your physician about driving and read up on the side effects. If there are any risks of drowsiness or fainting, consider refraining from driving until you stop taking the medication. If you’re unsure about how your prescription may influence your driving, you can use AAA’s Roadwise RX. This tool will allow you to enter your medication to see if it’s a driving concern and how your prescriptions interact.
Making Your Decision
Medical or physical factors aren’t the only signs you should watch for. Even if your vision and hearing are perfect or you’re healthy and fit, getting into accidents more frequently or getting lost more often are valid reasons to consider giving up your car.
There are other ways to test whether you should be driving. AAA and the Washington D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles offer free tests that check if your driving habits are safe. You can use other tools like the CogniFit Driving Test, to test your driving skills based on several cognitive skills.
You can also sign up for a professional driving assessment. The driving skills evaluation will test your abilities as a driver (much like a driver’s license test), while a clinical assessment looks for underlying issues that may influence your driving. These will give you the most personalized, accurate evaluation of whether you should be driving or not.
Each person is different, so there’s not one metric you should use to judge if you should be driving. It’s also a highly personal decision and one that you don’t need to make alone, so include your loved ones.
Each person is different, so there’s not one metric you should use to judge if you should be driving.
Adjusting to Not Driving
If you’ve made the choice to stop driving, there are still a few ways you can get around. Public transportation, like the bus or train, offers affordable ways to get from A to B and back.
Finally, you can work with loved ones or neighbors who are willing to transport you. In this case, you can plan your schedule to work along with their availability.
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Driving safely is an agreement we make with other drivers whenever we get behind the wheel of a car. If you’re unable to fulfill your part of that agreement, for whatever reason, it may be time to consider giving up driving. It can be a difficult choice to make, but it may save your life or someone else’s.