Thinking to stop driving?

You may have gotten your driver’s license the day you turned 16. By the time you retire, you could have driven daily for more than half a century. But for some people, there comes a time in the aging process when driving becomes dangerous. “On the whole, older drivers are safe,” says Dr. Marian Betz, an expert in healthy aging at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus. “They tend to drive slower than younger drivers and have a lot of experience.”

But some health conditions common with aging may make it riskier to get behind the wheel. Stiffer joints and weaker muscles can make it harder to steer or brake safely. Eye diseases and some medications can cause vision problems. Hearing loss can blunt the sounds of horns or sirens. And cognitive changes, even mild ones, may impair quick decisions behind the wheel.

Deciding to stop driving can be emotionally challenging for older adults, says Betz. “Many people see their car as a marker of independence. Giving up the privilege of driving can feel like a real loss.”

People often depend on cars to get them to and from the activities they enjoy. Or to see the people they care about. So stopping driving can lead to isolation. That’s why it’s important to have a plan for alternative transportation. “We don’t want older adults isolated and shut in,” Betz says. “We want people to be emotionally and socially connected, as well as be able to get out and exercise.”

Feeling disconnected can lead to poorer health. Studies have shown that loneliness and social isolation are linked to higher risks for some health problems. These include heart disease, depression, and cognitive decline.

There are many alternatives to driving. Some areas provide free or low-cost bus or taxi services for older adults. Some communities offer a carpool service, or scheduled trips to stores or the doctor. Rideshare service may also be an option. Your local Area Agency on Aging can help you find services.

Is It Time to Stop Driving?

If you answer “yes” to any of the below questions, it may be time to consider stopping driving:

  • Do other drivers often honk at you?
  • Have you had some accidents, even if they were only “fender benders?”
  • Do you get lost, even on roads you know?
  • Do cars or people walking seem to appear out of nowhere?
  • Do you get distracted while driving?
  • Has anyone told you they’re worried about your driving?
  • Do you have trouble staying in your lane?
  • Do you have trouble moving your foot between the gas and the brake pedals, or sometimes confuse the two?

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