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Senior Driving: Is it Time to Take the Keys?

Driving is something that we wait sixteen long years for, it is our first real taste of freedom. There is nothing more empowering than getting behind the wheel for the first time, knowing you are answering only to yourself, going where you want, when you want. Over time, driving has become such a large part of everyday life that we forget that we are not guaranteed to be able to hold a valid driver’s license. Without driving how could people function? What would they do with themselves? Those very questions are facing many seniors today because they are not able to drive to church services, their grandchild’s birthday party, or even to get their own groceries.

Some seniors willingly give up their license; however others feel as if it is the only freedom they have left. Without their driver’s license they will have to become totally dependent on someone else—be it public transportation or family, seniors can no longer rely on themselves. More than 20 million drivers in America are over the age of 70 and that number is continually on the rise due to the “Boomer generation” racing towards becoming card carrying members of AARP.

The truth is that driving is critical for seniors because they are more likely to be involved in multiple car accidents than teenagers. Failing to yield, improper turning, or running stop signs and red lights are common citations that senior citizens receive. This could be due failing health, decreased vision, or an overall decrease in driving ability. Car accidents are also more dangerous for senior citizens—an accident causing only mild harm to a teenager could cause significant harm to a senior. A person 65 or older is more likely to require hospitalization and die due to an automobile accident. Fatal crash rates rise significantly after a driver has reached age 70.

Some signs that point to unsafe driving for seniors include abrupt lane changes, slow reaction time to changes in driving environment, more fender-benders than usual, drifting into other lanes, or appearing fearful or over-exerted after driving. Medications can add an increase risk to driving because some result in drowsiness or sleepiness. Make sure to read the bottle carefully before driving or supporting your senior behind the wheel. Some medications that have driving restrictions include muscle relaxants, glaucoma medications, painkillers, and some antihistamines. Be aware that hearing loss can affect a person’s ability to drive, limiting their ability to hear honking, emergency sirens, or a child’s bicycle bell.

If you are concerned that you or a senior in your life is having difficulty driving, approach the subject with sensitivity. As mentioned earlier, maintaining a drivers’ license is for some the only source of freedom that they have left. Having a driver’s license allows seniors to remain independent, self-sufficient, and spontaneous. Explaining reasons such as safety concerns will help seniors understand why you think that their keys should be taken.

Explore the benefits of not driving, such as monetary savings. Those include savings from insurance, gas, regular maintenance, and for some even the payment for the car. Finding ways to highlight becoming a passenger as opposed to a driver will be essential in the transition process, for example offering to visit and take seniors places will not only keep the senior safe, but allow them to have much needed socialization.

Above all, keep in mind that safety is a key concern followed by a close second, sensitivity. By acknowledging that seniors are feeling an entire realm of emotions when faced with the prospect of giving up their keys will ultimately make the transition much smoother. Like our mothers taught us, being kind and considerate as opposed to forceful and demanding will ultimately get you what you want.