When is the Right Time to Quit Driving

senior hands on steering wheel

Just like when you were teenagers, having a drivers license instills a sense of freedom and independence in older adults too. Being able to hit the open road, drive from point A to B at whim, run daily errands and comfortably commute is a power we take for granted for most of our lives, but as we creep up in years, there may come a time when our driving capabilities are called into question.

Perhaps the eyesight isn’t what it used to be, especially at night. The reflexes are a little shot. Stiff muscles make shoulder checks awkward. Maybe you’ve had a few too many dings in the supermarket parking lot. You find yourself being honked at more than usual.

Many seniors are reluctant to give up the liberty being behind the steering wheel, and are resistant when adult children, friends, neighbors and even doctors suggest they think about handing in their keys. Please know that they really have your best interests in mind, and the best interest of other drivers and bystanders in your vehicular vicinity. In many cases, these well-meaning folks have delayed having this sensitive conversation with you, so by the time they actually bring it up, they have observed your driving decline for quite some time.

This is not the time to get angry or defensive. It’s the time to do some soul searching and take a physical and mental audit to determine if, indeed, your driving days are waning. There’s no specific age when one should stop driving, as everyone has their own timeline when these skills and abilities decline.

Here are some signs that you might be ready for this life transition.

You’ve had several close calls
Every driver has the occasional whoopsie or panicked swerve out of the way. However, if you notice an escalation in near-crash incidents, it’s high time you start accepting the reality that your driving skills are not what they used to be. There’s no way to predict when these close calls might become a real accident, and it’s too dangerous to take your chances to find out.

You’re car has a few too many dents
Most of us don’t get through our driving lives without accumulating a few minor dents and scratches on our vehicles through the years. That’s certainly not the exclusive domain of the senior driver. But when you start experiencing an uptick in parking lot hits, minor sideswipes or fender benders, it’s time to take a good hard look at your driving abilities. Maybe it’s not always other cars you’re encountering, but perhaps your garage door, a nearby fence or a local speed bump is looking a little worse for wear. Recognize this as a warning sign that your driving days are numbered.

You’ve had a couple of recent tickets
If you find yourself on the receiving end of several traffic tickets or warnings in the last year or two, that’s a sure sign you’re not paying attention to the road like you should. Likewise, if you’re insurance premiums have creeped up due to driving infractions, it might be time to consider stepping away from the driver’s seat.

You find yourself losing your way
We all get a bit lost now and then, but this can happen more often with elderly drivers. If you frequently get turned around, lose your bearings or find yourself befuddled even in familiar areas, consider that a red flag that cognitive decline may be a factor. It doesn’t necessarily mean that dementia is upon you, but you should definitely get checked out by your doctor. It can be very distressing to get disoriented behind the wheel, so take this as your cue to stop driving.

Your vision isn’t what it used to be
Sure, you can blame your challenges of seeing stop signs, lane markings, street names and traffic lights on your glasses prescription, but if you’re having regular difficulties with things like this, get both your vision and cognitive health checked out with your doctor. Misjudging distances of oncoming cars at intersections or highway ramps can be downright dangerous, so you want to make sure your vision is up to task.

You’re reflexes are less than sharp
There’s no doubt reflexes and response times decline throughout the years. When you or someone you know notices you are reacting slower to unanticipated driving situations, heed that a sign that you shouldn’t be operating a vehicle. Skilled driving requires sharp reflexes, and when yours are no longer firing at full capacity, it’s too dangerous to continue zooming about town. On a similar note, we’ve all heard of incidents where confused seniors mistake the break for the accelerator, which can have devastating consequences. You don’t want to be that person.

You get stressed, tired or moody behind the wheel
Struggling to concentrate, becoming easily distracted and having increased incidences of road rage is a good indication that you’re not a safe driver anymore. If you notice other drivers around you are honking and experiencing road rage because of you (perhaps because you drive too slowly or forget to signal a lane change), that too is a sign that you’re no longer roadworthy.

You’re experiencing physical limitations
Let’s face it, older bodies often have range-of-motion, chronic pain and dexterity issues. Vision and hearing problems can also mount. When this begins to interfere with your ability to check the rear view mirror, use a turn signal or stay in your lane, your ability to be a safe driver may be impacted. Certain medications can also impact your driving ability. Recognize and accept that it might be time to put your driving days in the rear view mirror.

Luckily, we live in a time when seniors who have to give up their keys can still get around quite freely. Of course, not everyone can afford a dedicated chauffeur or driverless Tesla, but ride share services are the next best thing. For significantly less than the cost of a car, insurance, road tax, gasoline, maintenance and the like, just summon a car and driver with an app like Uber or Lyft. They usually come in just a few minutes, always let you know their whereabouts on a map, and can drop you almost anywhere you want to go – no need for you to go searching for a parking spot. It may seem unfamiliar and intimidating the first time you use a ride sharing app, but once you get the simplicity of it, you’ll find it to be a convenient, stress free and safe way for any senior to get around to appointments, shops, social gatherings and other outings.

If ride sharing isn’t for you, some communities provide free or low-cost bus and taxi services for the elderly. Some areas offer carpool services or scheduled trips to the grocery store or doctor’s office. See if a local religious or civic group has volunteers that can drive you where you need to go. You don’t have to give up your freedom of going out and getting around, you just have to do it safely. Sit back and enjoy the ride. You’ve earned it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *