Relinquishing the car keys used to be one of the toughest decisions a senior had to make. The loss of driving privileges often signaled the end of independence. Unless there was a community paratransit bus or some other type of senior shuttle, giving up driving typically meant relying on friends, neighbors, or adult children for rides.
How times have changed. Today there is a spectrum of options offering elders safe, affordable mobility.
Let’s begin by exploring the factors that can help you determine whether a senior needs to stop driving.
In the age of distracted driving, being behind the wheel has never been more dangerous. When drivers are texting at red lights, or even while the car is moving, the risk rises for everyone — especially for seniors whose reaction time might be slower.
In a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, sixty percent of drivers said they send texts while driving, or check notifications. And almost everybody (93 percent) admits to talking on the phone while driving.
What this amounts to for seniors can be devastating. In 2016, there were almost 42 million licensed drivers 65+ in the United States. About 7400 of these older adults were killed and nearly 300,000 treated in emergency rooms the same year for motor vehicle injuries. This amounts to 20 older adults killed and 794 injured in crashes every day.
According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), seniors outlive their ability to drive safely by an average of 7 to 10 years. Weaker muscles, slower reflexes and response times, and a decline in visual acuity all combine to impair motor vehicle operation, especially in less than ideal conditions, such as rain, snow, fog, or glare.
Yet because these changes occur gradually, seniors may not realize their driving ability is diminishing until they’ve become a hazard behind the wheel. Everyone else’s distracted driving only adds to the danger.
Here are 15 ways caregivers can gauge whether the senior in their care ought to cease driving:
One smart way to approach the driving issue before serious problems arise would be to take a spin with your senior at the wheel. If several of the above red flags start waving, it might be time to talk to your loved one about driving. The Hartford offers some advice about having a conversation with an older loved one about their driving.
Older drivers can also use self-assessment tools. These self-assessments can help drivers gauge their own driving ability and get a sense of how safe they are. A professional evaluation performed by a trained driving evaluator or an occupational therapist may be helpful as well. You can find the self-assessment tools and get connected to an evaluator near you at SeniorDrivingaaa.com. Some local hospitals also may also offer evaluations. Call your health care provider to check.
If an older driver does have to give up the car, there are mobility options for seniors who no longer drive, from ride-sharing services such as Lyft and Uber that enable a senior to summon a car within minutes, to grocery shopping services like Instacart and Shipt, to meal delivery services such as GrubHub and DoorDash, which will deliver a restaurant meal right to a senior’s door.
There are also senior-centric ride-sharing services, such as GoGoGrandparent, which will arrange the ride and text a caregiver or designated family member with updates when a senior requests a ride, adding an extra layer of safety to the transportation equation.
And we’re not many years away from cars that will “drive Miss Daisy” by themselves. Not only will self-driving cars restore senior independence: technology entrepreneur Elon Musk plans to repurpose his electric Tesla cars as “robotaxis” that Tesla owners can rent out when they aren’t using them, taking ride-sharing to the level of ride-hailing.
The safety statistics for robo-rides are also encouraging. Since self-driving cars won’t drink, speed, or text while driving, it’s estimated that if 90 percent of cars on American roads were autonomous, accidents would fall from 5.5 million to 1.3 million annually, an incalculable preservation of human life.
The Area Agency on Aging 1-B understands that transportation is key to remaining independent. We provide a concierge transportation service, Myride2, to help seniors and adults with disabilities who live in Oakland, Macomb, Wayne and Washtenaw counties.
“Concierge” means that seniors (or their caregivers) call us, tell us where they want to go, and we arrange the transportation from end to end. We keep in mind cost and what your loved one’s specific needs are (do they need wheelchair-accessible transportation? Or someone to walk them into the building at their destination?) While Myride2 is a free service, seniors do need to pay for the actual transportation. They pay the transportation provider directly.
Myride2 also offers Mobility Options Counseling to give caregivers ideas about how to start the conversation regarding the transition from driving, and how to make a plan that will help their loved one get around after they stop driving.
While giving up the keys is definitely challenging, it does not have to be life-changing. With a little planning and a little help, you or your loved one can still get to all the places they need to go.