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Knowing When It's Time to Stop Driving

By Marcia Mangum Cronin

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Many of us in midlife wrestle with knowing when our parents or other loved ones need to hand over the car keys and stop driving. Is it safe for them to pick up the kids from swim practice or to drive into town for dinner and the symphony? And how about that road trip to Florida?

Just as we think we have those situations resolved, we may begin worrying about our own driving. Do we really know when our reaction times are good, our vision sharp and our driving still safe?

I've always considered myself a good driver—not good in the sense of race-car-driving good or even driving on icy roads good, but good and safe. I've had no accidents that were my fault in 40-plus years of driving and only two relatively minor moving violations (one for crossing a double-double yellow line as I turned into a parking lot—who knew?).

But I realized in my late 30s that I didn't have very good night vision, and it hasn't gotten any better. Starting in my late 40s, I began avoiding nighttime driving whenever possible, and now I rarely drive at night unless it's a short distance, I know the route, the weather is good, and the trip is essential. If it's optional, I stay home. The bright lights seem blinding to me, and it takes too long for my vision to recover. I also have no depth perception at night, and the glare when it's raining makes matters worse.

In the daytime, I'm still confident and, I think, competent. I enjoy driving, whether around town or on long road trips. My kids and husband are sometimes critical, but we're all critical of each other's driving, so who knows how I really stack up.

In fact, how do any of us know how we stack up?

Older drivers are generally safe drivers, at least to a point, and many of us do know our limitations. However, it can be hard to give up the keys—or to talk your parents or other loved one into giving up theirs.

That's especially true if it means giving up independence along with the car. So, how do you know if it's time to give up the keys or to tell an older friend or loved one to surrender theirs?

Here are some signs that you (or a loved one) may be having driving difficulties, courtesy of NIHSenior Health and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation:

  • Drifting out of the lane
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Difficulty moving the foot between the gas and the brake pedals or confusing the two
  • Not merging or changing lanes safely
  • New dents or dings in the car
  • Observations by neighbors or friends about unsafe driving
  • Two or more traffic tickets, warnings, collisions or "near misses" within the last two years
  • Accidents (including fender benders)
  • Increases in car insurance premiums because of collisions
  • Vision problems
  • Anxiety about driving at night
  • Complaints about the speed of other drivers or about sudden lane changes or actions of other drivers
  • Noticeable change in reaction times, reflexes or other driving abilities

Here's information to help you learn more about recognizing older driver difficulties.
If you're not sure it's time for you or your loved one to stop driving or you're meeting resistance, talk to your (or your loved one's) health care provider.

How did you make the decision to restrict or give up driving? How did you handle the issue with a parent or older friend? Tell us in the comments below!