When to give up driving | Page on Age

Driving means so many things to different people. At any age, driving may connote independence and freedom. But for someone in their 80s, it may be one of the only ways to continue to participate fully in meaningful activities. It is a lot to ask of someone who has been driving for over 50 years to quickly adjust to not driving and locate alternatives.

But functioning and physical differences between older adults and younger adults can greatly affect the ability to drive safely. By the time we are in our 40s, we need 20 times more light to see at night than a 20-year-old. Some common declines that also come from aging are perception, psycho-motor abilities, visual, attention and cognitive issues. They all don’t happen at the same time to everyone, but it is much more likely in an 80-year-old than a 40-year-old. For many older adults, they often start out self-restricting their driving. Some only drive short distances or in a small radius close to home, or restrict driving to daylight hours.

However, there are many people with cognitive and memory decline (dementia) who do not willingly give up the keys. “Well, I have never had an accident, so why should I stop driving?” This is a hard issue for the individual, friends and family. A person with dementia is unable to understand why they are asked to give up driving, or their own deficits in judgment, reasoning and insight. Friends and family see all of that and more, and often have the responsibility of taking away the car or contacting the Department of Licensing for a re-examination test.

What is not being addressed is: how will we get around if we lose our driving skills? Yes, there are buses in some places, and METRO has the ACCESS bus, but it is not a panacea — especially since some of our neighborhoods and streets cannot accommodate the ACCESS bus, even if you are eligible.

Many people become prisoners of their own homes. Many people choose to move into a senior housing, which can provide multiple options for transportation so that they are not dependent on a car.  Others develop a network of family and friends to give rides when needed or use taxi services. So what’s the answer? Many of us at some point will need to give up the keys. Would a model similar to “safe rides” used by teens here on Mercer Island work for older adults?

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