Letting go of the keys

Giving up the car keys

A wise man once said, "I would rather stop driving five years too soon than one millisecond too late." Max Israelite wrote an essay in 1994 explaining why he decided to give up driving at age 75. He recognized that his weakening vision and physical abilities were impeding his driving ability, and he worried that no one would take away his license unless something tragic happened.

So how does a person know when it's time to stop or limit driving?

The answer is different for everyone, and often depends on having an alternative transportation service in place.

Choose from a topic below:

Normal changes that come with aging make safe driving more difficult


Seeing clearly is very important for safe driving. Glasses or contact lenses help drivers of all ages compensate for imperfect vision, up to a point. As we age peripheral vision often weakens. Blurring from reflection off wet streets and halo effects from oncoming headlights become more hazardous for aging drivers, as it becomes more difficult to recover from glare. Distinguishing shapes in low-light is a bigger problem as drivers age, too. For those dealing with low vision or visual impairment, driving becomes more dangerous.


Reaction time slows as people age, and multitasking becomes more difficult. Driving more slowly can help, but traffic conditions can change very quickly. Judging distances can be more difficult for older drivers, so merging with traffic and left turns across on-coming traffic can be frightening. Those with conditions that severely impair cognition endanger themselves and others when they drive. Not a year goes by without confused drivers with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia coming to harm unnecessarily.

Physical Ability

Range of motion and strength change incrementally over time, with as much as a 40% decline between ages 30 and 60.[1] Arthritis, Parkinson's disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, seizures and other health conditions cause physical changes that can impair movements needed for driving. Many new automotive technologies can help drivers compensate to some degree. Drivers should ask a doctor or occupational therapist about helpful adaptive technologies.


It is illegal to drive while taking medications that caution against operating heavy machinery, and drivers may be cited with Driving Under the Influence (DUI). Drivers taking multiple prescriptions should check with their doctors or pharmacist to understand possible drug interactions that could impair driving.

AARP 10 Signs That it's Time to Stop Driving - http://www.aarp.org/home-garden/transportation/info-05-2010/Warning_Signs_Stopping.html

The Conversation

The transition from driving involves the whole family. As grandparents and parents grow older, families want to make sure loved ones are safe and can continue to live with dignity and independence. Because driving is a complex activity that requires quick reflexes and clear vision, many people will face a day when they can no longer drive safely. At the same time, driving is central to the American way of life. It's more than a way to get around; it's a symbol of freedom.

Having the conversation

No wonder older people are reluctant to give up the keys, and their adult children are nervous about starting the conversation. But, seniors are more open to having a conversation than their children think. According to a Liberty Mutual survey, 94 percent of seniors would not be embarrassed discussing the topic, and 80 percent said the conversation would not make them uncomfortable. In fact, 92 percent of seniors surveyed said their children "have a right" to raise the issue with them.

Tips for families - from http://www.libertymutual.com/auto-insurance/senior-driving

If you think that an older family member could be dangerous behind the wheel, it's important to deal with the issue sooner rather than later. Here are some tips to prepare for this sensitive conversation.

Before You Talk

  • Take a ride with your loved one and observe their driving. Watch their awareness of their driving environment. Do they have slow reaction times? Are there dents, scrapes, close calls, tickets or warnings?
  • Look into alternate transportation solutions and be prepared to discuss options.

During Your Talk

  • Consider beginning the conversation with a question about how they feel when driving.
  • Listen to what your family member is saying and truly hear their concerns.
  • Highlight your concern for their safety and the safety of others.
  • Use a respectful tone.
  • Don't get drawn into an argument; be kind and patient.
  • Frame the conversation in a positive light as preserving mobility and independence when supplementing driving or when driving is no longer safe.
  • Suggest an evaluation from a drivers. rehabilitation specialist or professional driving teacher.
  • If necessary, enlist the help of your loved one's physician.

Most importantly, have realistic expectations. It's likely that the matter will not be resolved with the first discussion.

Transition from Driving

For most Americans, cars are the primary way they get around. When people find themselves unable to drive, how do they continue to live their normal lives? If the break from driving is temporary, people often ask friends or family for rides. Depending on loved-ones to provide sufficient transportation long-term is rarely possible, however.

Finding Alternatives

Some communities have a lot of transportation options, while others have few. Until now, no single database has attempted to list every transportation system in the U.S. Rides In Sight aims to provide that information, at least for seniors. Traditionally, individuals or families have had to figure out how to get where they.re going on their own. Recently, some communities have hired dedicated Mobility Managers to help. Like Rides In Sight, Mobility Managers can help people find out what is available, but they cannot create transportation options that do not exist. Individuals may find the current options do not address their transportation situation adequately. The first step to finding a solution is identifying the problem.

Planning Your Transportation Future

On average men outlive their ability to drive safely by six years. Because women's life expectancy is longer, they are often dependent on other transportation modes for ten years beyond driving.[2] Experts recommend planning ahead while driving is still unaffected. When planning retirement, think about the later years when driving becomes more difficult. Retirement planning always focuses on money, but there are many other things to think about to secure the golden years.

  • What should I do to make sure I can continue doing the things I love to do?
  • Do I want to work and/or volunteer in my senior years? Where and for how long?
  • Do I want to travel? Where? What can I afford?
  • How long do I want to stay in my current home? In my community? Is there somewhere else I would rather live?
  • Should I live near family?
  • What will I do if I have a health crisis?
  • What will I do if I outlive my spouse/partner?
  • If I can no longer drive (or use my current transportation) how will I go where I need to go?
  • Do my friends and family know my plans and wishes?

Rides In Sight is here to help you find senior transportation options available in your community. We are happy to provide information as you plan your transportation future.

[1] http://seniordriving.aaa.com/sites/default/files/Smart-Features-for-Older-Drivers-Brochure.pdf
[2] Foley, DJ, Heimovitz HK, Guralnik JM, Brock DB, "Driving Life Expectancy of Persons Aged 70 Years and Older in the United States," American Journal of Public Health, vol. 92, no. 8 pp. 1284-1289.