I still remember the first time I slid into the driver’s seat and took to the road alone. I was sixteen. The car was a 1993 Mercury Topaz in Bimini Blue. I didn’t get to pick the car, it was used – purchased from a family friend – the color awful, but the freedom that car gave me was immeasurable. Since that day, I have always had a car and a license.
The idea of not having a car, or my license, is foreign to me. Driving, being able to get behind the wheel and just go, whenever and wherever I want, is something I desire at a fundamental level.
I’m not alone in this. Americans seem to love driving. Over 75 percent of adults carry a driver’s license, 40.1 million of them over the age of 65. Yet the average American outlives their ability to drive by six to ten years. Older drivers tend to be safer, they are more likely to use seat belts, follow speed limits, avoid high traffic times, inclement weather, night driving, and driving under the influence. While accident rates for seniors are low, mortality rates are high. (Source: Consumer Reports.)
It’s a touchy subject. For many, the problem with giving up their driver’s license isn’t about not being able to drive; it’s about the loss of independence. It’s about suddenly having to rely on others, after years of looking after yourself. It’s not fun, but it is reality.
At what age should we give up our driver’s license, and hand in our keys?
The answer isn’t easy because there is no universal age. Where one person might be able to drive into their late eighties, another might need to stop in their sixties. It’s relative, and many factors come into play including but not limited to: vision, mobility, and cognitive function.
Failing vision is a big one. Many people see a decrease in night vision first. I remember my dad telling me about how his father’s vision started to fail when he was a teenager. His dad would ask him to look ahead and tell him when turns, stop signs, and obstacles (like a loose cow – of which there were many, if the stories are to be believed) were coming up. My dad was his eyes, his copilot. It was a sign my grandfather shouldn’t have been driving.
Some other signs that it might be time to reevaluate your driving abilities are:
AAA has a short, 15-question brochure to help you self-rate yourself for safe driving.
Driving a car may feel effortless, but it is actually a complex task that requires flexibility and healthy cognition. Medical conditions like osteoarthritis, diabetic neuropathy, dementia, and failing vision can seriously hinder a person’s ability to drive.
Studies have shown that cardio can slow cognitive decline, and that exercise (strength and flexibility) can improve response speed. Beyond that, senior drivers might benefit from a driver rehabilitation specialist.
One of the real problems with judging your own driving abilities is that things like vision decline slowly and we adjust. If you wear glasses or contacts, you probably know what I mean. Ever put on a new pair of prescription glasses only to realize how bad your vision was in the old ones? Or maybe you go shopping for a new pair of pants, only to find you’ve gone up a size or two and not recognized it? Changes are gradual, and we adjust. That doesn’t mean you’re operating at 100 percent.
A driver rehabilitation specialist can assess a driver’s ability and make recommendations. Sometimes to keep you on the road, and other times to keep you off of it. They are a third-party, objective eye that’s trained to evaluate. A comprehensive driving assessment runs around $500. You can find one in your area here.
AARP also offers a Smart Driver course. You might wonder why you would consider a driving course. Cars have changed. The roads have changed.
If you live in Indianapolis, for instance, you know we’ve been inundated with roundabouts lately. You can’t drive in Carmel without running into one. We even have a “Michigan Left” at 96th and Allisonville Road. (And if that bit of genius isn’t proof that they’re trying to make driving more complicated, I don’t know what is…)
A refresher course will review current rules of the road and defensive driving techniques. It will also teach you the proper way to use new technology like antilock brakes, and how medications might affect your driving.
Many states are required to give you an insurance break for taking the course. Indiana isn’t one, but you can check with your automotive insurance agent to learn if they offer discounts.
There’s an online course ($15 for members, $20 for nonmembers) and a classroom version ($19.95 for members, $24.95 for nonmembers.) You can find a course in your area here.
A new car might help as well. Here’s an article that lists, as of June 2017, the 25 best cars for senior drivers. They considered features such as front-seat access, visibility, controls, headlights, backup cameras, etc. Overall, Ford, Subaru, and Toyota seem to be the most forward thinking in designing cars for elderly drivers. (Source: Counsumer Reports.)
If you live in the city, downtown, giving up your driver’s license may not be a big deal. But for those who live in the suburbs, where public transportation might be slim, there is a very real concern. If you don’t have a driver’s license, how in the heck are you supposed to get around?
You can catch a bus if there’s a line running near you and convenient stops. You can cab it. Maybe use Uber. But those aren’t practical on a long-term basis. Cabs are expensive, and Uber only works if you have a smartphone and are comfortable using it. There are other options.
This brochure gives a broad idea of some of the options available. Listed below are some specific solutions in Hamilton and Marion Counties. If you don’t live locally, you can find senior transportation options through your local senior center, or search here.
If you live in Marion County:
Way2Go is a good option. Residents over 60, who are eligible and apply, can utilize their Door2Door and Shuttle services. They also offer coupons for taxi discounts.
Door2Door is available for medical appointments, pharmacy needs, and grocery trips weekdays from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm for $5. Their shuttle service is limited but only costs $2.
If you live in Hamilton County:
If you are 50 or older, PrimeLife Enrichment Center offers transportation on weekdays from 8:00 am to 3:30 pm. Fees are determined by purpose of your trip, age, and distance. Essential travel (doctor, grocery, pharmacy, etc.) less than eight miles one way, for clients over 60 is free, but donations are encouraged.
Hamilton County Express also offers reservation-based service weekdays from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm and Saturdays from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm for $5 one way. You can buy a pass for four rides for $20, and unlimited rides for the month for $55. 24-hour notice is required. This PDF has all of their information.
If you don’t mind staying home, we certainly live in a world that allows you to do almost everything from your favorite seat in the house. If you have a computer or smart phone, you can order just about anything online. Virtually all of the major retailers have online sites you can order from. (A fact I celebrate when it keeps me from having to brave the stores around the holidays.)
Your prescriptions can be delivered to your home if you can wait for them. Even Walgreens and CVS offer mail-order services. One of the benefits of mail-order prescriptions is that you can usually get your maintenance medications, the things you take daily over the long term, in 90 day supplies. This can mean paying less over the long term. (Many prescription insurance companies will give you a price break for buying through the mail.)
Mail-order is not a good option for immediate needs though, so that antibiotic should still go to the brick-and-mortar pharmacy.
Food delivery services, beyond pizza, Chinese, and Jimmy Johns, exist. Services like DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Grubhub allow you to order from hundreds of restaurants, and an independent driver picks up your food and delivers it. I admit to using DoorDash at least once a month when I’m just too tired to cook. My husband and I enjoy ordering from Cheesecake Factory and The Pint Room.
You can even do your grocery shopping online. Instacart, Green BEAN Delivery, and Amazon offer different ways to get your groceries. I personally use Kroger ClickList, because I hate grocery shopping (especially with a small child who has to touch everything!) They don’t deliver, but you can order online and pick up without having to leave your car.
Hopefully, you are one of the lucky ones, who can keep driving. Hopefully, you won’t have to give it up until you are ready. But if you aren’t and it is time to stop driving, there are options. Giving up driving is a blow to independence, but it’s not a deadly one. Continuing to drive when it is time to give it up can be though.
Drive smart, drive safe, even if that means not driving at all.