The other day I was talking with my friends Nancy* and George* about their experience of driving. She is 93 and he is 95. They’d both recently had upsetting times at the DMV, where their licenses were not renewed.
“They looked at us…and immediately decided we shouldn’t be driving.” George went on, “It was pure age discrimination.” Their upset was understandable and palpable.
“We both decided to keep driving anyway. After all, what are they going to do---put us in jail?”
Now my upset was palpable.
While usually very law-abiding and careful, this was a big exception. They were both ignoring legal guidelines for driving…and I felt worried.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had conversations with independent seniors. It’s a topic that has come up again and again over decades. No one wants to stop driving, give up their license, or joyfully limit their mobility.
For one 92-year old friend, it took 2 car accidents. Then, and only then, did this gentleman give up his license. “I didn’t want to tempt fate and have a third accident. I took it as a sign from above…it was time to stop driving.”
Here are four factors that deserve attention. These can compromise your ability to drive safely—through no fault of your own.
If you are experiencing health conditions that might affect your ability to drive, this is important to evaluate. You could talk to your physician and get his/her opinion. Health conditions, such as dementia or Parkinson’s, can impact your ability to drive safely.
According to the CDC, vision impairment rates increase significantly after age 75. This doesn’t apply to everyone. Yet, vision is key for safe driving. From reading road signs, traffic, checking for pedestrians—you need to see clearly and accurately.
Vision changes can also affect ability to see clearly at different times of the day. If you notice your vision is changing at dusk and nighttime, make adjustments in when you drive. In short, getting regular eye exams and checking with your eye doctor is a smart way to stay safe and driver-ready.
Many people experience hearing changes with aging. Hearing loss can occur gradually over time. This may be noticeable to other people, before you realize it. If a friend of family member tells you, “Didn’t you hear that horn?” it is time to pay attention. You could be having hearing impairment.
Check with your audiologist or person in charge of hearing tests.
Prescription drugs can cause different side effects. These may range from drowsiness to blurred vision, headaches, or confusion. Obviously, if you are taking medications that cause these effects—it’s a good idea to stay off the road.
Additionally, check with your doctor and pharmacist about drug side effects, and drug interactions. Be sure to let your doctor know if you’re taking over-the-counter medications that could create further interactions.
In addition to the obvious physical problems, you may be noticing other signs—but they haven’t risen to the surface of full-awareness. Here’s a short checklist to monitor yourself.
If you’ve been a safe driver for decades, but have been getting a lot of tickets…pay attention. Perhaps these are warning signs that your recent driving is not as pristine as it used to be.
Have you been in a fender-bender recently? Did you smash up against the garage door? If your car is showing signs of extra damage, this might be a warning sign.
No one likes to mention driving safety…but if you’re friends and family are commenting, take note. They didn’t want to say anything. They aren’t out to get you or limit your independence. If they are saying something, they may have noticed your reluctance to drive, tension, or increasing amount of discomfort. Be a good sport and at least listen.
Do you feel reluctant about driving? Are you grabbing the steering wheel like your life depended on it? Are you complaining non-stop about other drivers? Are you driving below the speed limit? Are you sitting at the light after it turns green? Are you getting lost more often?
If you are noticing changes, get feedback from objective people. Ask a trusted friend to drive with you. Hint: reward him or her by listening closely to observations.
It may have been a long time since you took driving lessons, right? Yet taking a defensive driving course can help you improve your skills, plus it may lower your car insurance.
Check out organizations like AAA, AARP, and your car insurance provider to find a class near you. Some defensive driving classes are available online as well as in classrooms.
If you or your family is still concerned about your driving ability, there’s one more step to take. Check with a certified driver rehabilitation specialist (CDRS). This professional is usually a driving instructor or occupational therapist.
They can determine if it’s time to stop driving, or if you are still safe behind the wheel. They may recommend a few sessions to break any bad habits, and increase comfort while driving.
Many driving programs and senior centers have these experts on staff. You can check a directory to find a CDRS near you.
The big idea here: If you should or shouldn’t be driving really is a matter of life and death. There may be good reason why you’re wondering, “Should I still be driving?” that speaks to your inner intelligence. You maybe ready to take lessons to tune up your skills. Or you might decide it could be time to put down your car keys.
Whether you’re noticing signs of distraction, discomfort, memory loss, or slowness to respond—it’s better to pay attention before it’s too late. With all the options for transportation that don’t include driving, you may enjoy yourself more without the cares of driving a car.
* Names changed to protect privacy.