Putting the Keys Away

Many drivers whose faculties are diminished because of physical or mental challenges continue to get behind the wheel even though it's unsafe. Here are signs it’s time to stop.

Menopause & Aging Well

retiring from driving


by Warren Clarke

It's been several years since my aunt has driven her Toyota Camry. Diabetes-related glaucoma has ravaged her eyesight. Driving represented independence, and she held on to that privilege for as long as she possibly could.

But she eventually realized that safety—hers, and that of those sharing the road with her—was more important than independence. She voluntarily put away the keys.

Other families aren't so lucky. Many drivers whose faculties are diminished because of physical or mental challenges continue to get behind the wheel even though it's unsafe.

Age is not a reliable indicator of driving capability, but health is. Those who are in their 90s and in good health will make safe drivers. However, drivers in their 50s or 60s who suffer from ailments affecting their ability to function on the road—such as my aunt's glaucoma—will be better off finding other means of transportation.

To determine whether it's time for you or your loved one to retire from driving, consider both physical and mental health. Certain diseases and conditions affect vision. Conditions such as Alzheimer's disease affect mental state and cause disorientation. Some medications can harm reflex time and awareness. Drivers often need to respond quickly, and anything that compromises this could be hazardous to their safety.

One of the best ways to get a sense of a loved one's ability to drive is to tag along for a ride. You should be able to quickly tell if there are issues such as vision problems, slow reflexes or disorientation. You can also gather clues by discreetly checking the vehicle for signs of damage. If a person's faculties are failing, fender-benders and parking-lot mishaps will become more common, and so will vehicle dents and scrapes.

Some states require that older drivers renew their licenses more frequently and in person, accompanied by a vision test. Consult the Department of Motor Vehicles to find out what the regulations are and whether they're being met.

If the time has come for your relative to stop driving, you can help ease the transition by finding transportation alternatives. Many cities offer shared-ride public transportation for those with disabilities. My aunt lives in Maryland, and she relies on MetroAccess, which operates 365 days a year, providing door-to-door shared rides at a reasonable cost.

Other community ride-share services (including Uber and Lyft), public transportation, taxis, or the efforts of family and friends can help offset the burden of putting away the keys.

The biggest fear many drivers have about giving up driving is that doing so will leave them stranded alone. Let your loved one know it's not necessary to be behind the wheel of a vehicle to lead a full, happy and sociable life.

Warren Clarke lives in Los Angeles and is most proud of two things: his 10-year relationship with his car and the expert consumer advice on buying, selling and owning a car he’s been able to provide as a writer for Carfax.

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