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Monday, 16 December 2013

Driving While Old

Aside from dementia, nothing at the moment frightens me more than losing driving privileges. Even if you live in a place with good public transportation such as New York City or Portland, Oregon, it's not the same.

There are half a dozen food markets in my area; each has its advantages and drawbacks so I shop them all. Not all at once and not all in one day but regularly, depending on what I want or need.

Only one is within walking distance and whether walking or riding a bus, I wouldn't always be able to carry all I want so without a car, I would to without some things I would like to have.

And that's just food. It's quite a trek by bus to other places I want to go sometimes – a certain kind of shopping, a restaurant, movie theaters, physician, etc. - and some of those would require changing buses at least once and more than a hour's travel compared to 15-20 minutes by car.

On Saturday, The New York Times published an excellent story about efforts being made to help keep elders driving for as long as possible:

”Instead of handing over his keys, though, Mr. Cullon, who lives in Albany, decided to consult a driving rehabilitation specialist.

She rode with him, observing how well he used his feet, how good his reflexes were and how good his range of motion was in his shoulders and neck. Then she pronounced him fit to take the wheel.”

Times reporter, Alina Tugend, writes that according to the National Transportation Safety Administration, there are currently 35 million licensed drivers older than 65 and that scares a lot of people. However, writes Tugend,

”...the common perception, that the only real choice is between ignoring the difficulties faced by elderly drivers and taking away the car keys, is wrong.

“'We’re evolving in our thinking,' said Jodi Olshevski, a gerontologist and executive director of the Hartford insurance company’s Center for Mature Market Excellence.

"'We’re not just looking at the transition from driver to passenger, but how we can empower drivers to extend their driving as long as possible.'”

And here is a fact you might have guessed if you have been reading TimeGoesBy for any length of time: just as individual people age at dramatically different rates from one another, so it is with elders' driving skills. As AAA spokesperson, Sharon Gilmartin told Tugend:

“'A 50-year-old driver may not be safe, and a 95-year-old driver may function perfectly,' she said. 'Driving is a function of ability, not age.'”

Here's what else Gilmartin told the Times reporter about age-related accident rates:

“'From 65 to 70 years old, you’re looking at rates similar to middle-aged drivers,' she said. In fact, older drivers are often safer, because they are less likely to speed, drive drunk or text while driving.

“But per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase beginning at age 75 and rise sharply after age 80. That’s not necessarily because older people have more accidents but because they are more fragile and less likely to recover from serious injuries, Ms. Gilmartin said.

“Teenagers are much more likely to kill someone else in a crash; older adults are far more likely to kill themselves.”

So in addition to help from driving rehabilitation specialists, experts are leaning on technical improvements to automobiles to help elders drive longer. A couple of years ago during a visit to Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan, I experienced one of those improvements – the self-parking feature:

Many more are being incorporated into new cars every year – smart headlights, reverse monitoring systems, blindspot warning systems and more that you can read about here.

Like elder-targeted safety measures in other parts of life - grab bars in the bathroom are an example - what is good for old people is always and equally good for younger people too. All these improvements auto manufacturers are inventing are good for everyone.

I'm sorry I will not be in the market for a new car any time soon or, perhaps, ever. My 2004 PT Cruiser with 36,000 miles is doing to just fine (she said, frantically knocking wood) and buying another would be a huge financial stretch.

A lot of people and organizations are making other kinds of serious efforts to help aging drivers stay safely on the road for as long as possible.

After several years of study, The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has just issued an Older Driver Traffic Safety Plan. You can read it here.

The MIT Age Lab working with the Hartford insurance company has developed a series of exercise videos with instructions on maintaining physical strength, range of motion, coordination and flexibility that will help keep elders driving longer. You can see those here.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has just published a state-by-state list of license renewal requirements and other provisions for elder drivers that you can see here.

Most of all, I urge you to read Alina Tugend's entire Times story. It is thorough, informative and cogent and I am pleased to know that there are knowledgeable, accomplished people who are thoughtfully working to help keep me driving for as long as I can safely do it.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: Strider's Surprise

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


My 95 truck Grumpy and I do well on short distances. I passed all the driving tests now mandatory for those over 70, but I am not fully comfortable making left hand turns. Public transportation is supposed to be wonderful here, but it isn't. Yesterday I walked to farthest since I got my new hip, and that's encouraging.

It's rationalization nothing but. I live in an area rife with Alzheimer's drivers, my neighbour had full blown dementia for five years before her licence was pulled. If she killed someone she would have no repercussions. The only reason there are fewer accidents is because everyone else stays well clear of them.

The solution is more walkability and better transit not keeping people on the road who cannot turn their head, have macular degeneration or dementia or all three. If you lived in Manhattan you wouldn't feel like your life was over. Buses in my town have floors that lower and anybody can wheel a shopping buggy into one. The fact that a person at 95 thinks they are a great driver is exactly the problem. At 53 I am aware that my reflexes are not as good as they were 25 years ago but I am in the minority, everybody else seems to think they improve with age.

'Driving is a function of ability, not age.'”


Thank you for your research. Everything you said was so pertinent....because of health problems I learned most of this from experience earlier this year. I have my car back and can't wait to read all of these articles to hopefully find some solutions for the future. Not having a car is PAINFUL

My kids think I should live in a more walkable area, but there are no grocery stores or pharmacies in those areas of Tucson so nothing is gained but a move. We do have special mini buses for the elderly and handicapped but one does have to make an appointment several days in advance. So I am working on defensive driving making an effort to be more alert.

Vera has obviously not lived in the suburbs of western US cities. I've had several homes with no retail outlets of any kind within walking distance. Ditto the bus routes.

Not being able to drive would necessitate my moving to some obnoxiously high-density population area, probably an apartment overlooking a shopping center. I'd rather be shot.

NYC has a good public transportation--in Manhattan. All or some parts of the outer boroughs are not as well served so we have to drive to shopping, just like elders in other cities. And, in Manhattan, many subway stations have only stairs, an issue for those with aging knees and hips. Finally, the City has moved incredibly slowly to fix the issues created by Sandy in lower Manhattan. Over a year later, there are no escalators operating in the Staten Island Ferry terminal. (Guess where I live!) So, it's good to read about some things I can do to keep myself driving. Thanks.


When Roy lost his leg due to the complications of Diabetes, we all thought his life was over because he LOVED to drive the car and now his right leg was gone!

On a hunch I called the Ford Motor Company and asked if they had any suggestions about how he could still drive with no right leg.

They transferred me to the Motorist Mobility Department and a very nice representative explained an apparatus Ford had developed that allowed a person to drive with their left foot.

They sent us to a Auto Conversion place near our home and they installed the left footed drive in our car at a cost of $750.00 which was paid by Ford.By the way, the bar was removable in case you wanted to trade drivers. By removing it with one click the car was back to normal for a right footed driver.

When I saw the catalog of "gadgets" they had for various disabilities I was amazed. They have a special key ring for people whose arthritic fingers can't turn the key in the ignition. Ford has that one figured out,too.

There are many more solutions to physical problems.They are too numerous to mention.

So you should all know that just because you have a handicap,there may be a solution to your problem.
I only know about Ford because we always had a Ford but the other companies may have a program to help you,too.

The following is from the Ford Web Site and explains the program.

The Ford Mobility Motoring Program provides the customer with a check, directly from a Ford or Lincoln-Mercury dealer, for up to $1000 toward the exact cost of the installation of adaptive equipment when purchasing or leasing any eligible new Ford or Lincoln-Mercury vehicle. For more information, contact the Ford Mobility Motoring Program toll free at 800-952-2248 (TTY Users: 800-833-0312). In Canada call 800-565-8985. www.mobilitymotoringprogram.com/mainpage.mob

I'm glad to hear you are still driving your little PT Cruiser, as I always think of you whenever I see one of those.

Note to Sidney: I live in Tucson and "East Side Volunteers" take me to medical appointments. You do need to give them 3 or more days notice for them to find a volunteer driver. They are great people and always on time. Most of them stay in the waiting rooms while I see the doctor. There are restrictions as to how far they will go, but I think other parts of Tucson have the same service. Check with PCOA (Pima County ON Aging) for information.

I agree that Sun Tran is a pain and you not only have to call in advance, but you have to be ready 30 minutes before a logical pick-up time as they will come sometime within that 30 minutes.

While there are ways to get around in Tucson it is limiting and not always convenient.

Being without a car is hard and I have had to skip concerts and specialty shopping since giving up my car. It further isolates me and If I had known how hard it is I would not have stopped driving.

I like what one policeman told our senior's education group: "Try out public transportation from time to time to see how it works for you before you need it. And by the way, get your younger family members to try it out! We need to use public transportation more as a society."

In BC, there's a 25% discount in insurance when you turn 65 - as long as you're not driving to and from work. Big (pleasant) surprise for me when I turned 65 this year.

Re: your driver's licence, if your GP believes you may have cognitive or physical impairment, he can order a driving test.

The current rule is to be tested every 2 years after age 80, but that's under review. It will likely remain only as a "suggestion", leaving the first step up to the doctor again. This seems more reasonable to me - it leaves age discrimination out of the equation.

Those exercises are wonderful for anyone who is aging. I'm bookmarking this page and making them part of my morning routine. They feel good too!
Thank you Ronni.

The transportation issues are part of what kept me from moving to Portland to be near my sisters. One lives in the suburbs of Hillsboro and is unable to drive at night and dreading being stuck in place there in a suburb.

We do have a decent bus system in my little burg, and once I am in my new place I'll be able to walk easily to the grocery, PO, and library from where I live, as well as the bus stops. Giving up driving would be a nightmare all the same. I do exercises nearly everyday to keep my neck flexible, and studiously avoid parking anywhere I have to back out of, I habit I acquired in my 40's. Still staying on the road is in my mind a matter of healthy aging and genetics.

I gave up my car several years ago when I discovered I had problems concentrating. I was worried I'd hurt someone or myself so I gave it to my son.

When I decided to retire I wanted to live in a place with walkable neighborhoods, a baseball team, live theatre and good transportation. It was San Diego or Chicago. San Diego won out just because it was closer to where I was living.

If I need just a few things, I have a rolling cart so I don't have to carry them. The local grocery store also delivers which is nice. It does take a while to get someplace for appointments but that's what my Kindle and my tablet are for.

I miss having a car sometimes. I used to drive a lot: cross country several times and up to Alaska.

But I don't miss being taken advantage of by mechanics, rising gas prices, insurance, flat tires and accidents, or worrying about the car because I have to park it in the street. I especially like the money I am saving. That's probably the best part.

Then there are those of us in our 70s, still working full time and, in my case, at a job that requires lots of driving. Plus I live in a rural area 12 miles from a town that has no public transportation whatsoever. Not driving isn't an option...

Most of the reason that I don't drive as well now as I did in 1980 is that I don't get as much practice, and the practice that I do get is usually just the same old thing over and over.

I was a decent (but not great) driver in the 1980s - driving in many of the major US cities and spending months at a time in Los Angeles. In thos days, I put on at least 40,000 miles total on the three cars that I drove (2 personal, 1 company). Now...like Ronni I drive little (although I did drive 3,000 miles, alone, a bit over one year ago)- and usually at the times of my choice.

I think that many other elders like me. They lose whatever driving skills they once possessed from lack of practice!

BTW: For decades, I have touted having free mass transit in cities. Get people out of their cars! I should think that the lesser need for traffic cops and road systems maintenance would make it a break-even proposition, financially. I would hope that it would also reduce air and water pollution (water pollution from the petroleum products that drip onto the ground from many cars/pickups).

This is a helpful post for all of us, especially those who've been driving a long time and have no intention of giving it up.

Studies have shown that aging drivers tend to restrict their own driving in response to difficulties driving at night or on highways. They keep on driving but only during the day and on city streets.

I love the new smart car apps but, like Ronni, I plan to drive my own well-maintained old Ford as long as I can. I had cataract surgery this year which fixed the problem of seeing spiky halos around lights at night and on foggy mornings.

My 65 year old friend was pondering how many more cars he'd own before handing in his keys.

"Maybe two more.."

We live walking distance to a friendly neighborhood village and stores we use.

There is a bus stop five minutes from home. The bus and metro can take us anywhere we wish to go on the island of Montreal.

We use the bus weekends or to see doctors downtown.

We enjoy being all tucked into our seats, doing a word search or listening to music.

But we each have a car. Mine is probably the best one I will ever own. KIA Soul with Sirius music and seat heat.

The car is high, bull doggish and safe. I don't drive at night, mainly use it to get around the West Island of Montreal.

I love that car and take good care of it. Crazy about the satellite music stations.

This morning I had breakfast with my 89 year old friend who recently moved into an autonomous senior building five minutes away from the house she sold.

She very smartly decided to stay in her own neighborhood, where she can walk to the bus stop and get to everything she has to do.

Her eyes and reflexes are good and she still drives, just not downtown or at night.

I admire my friend for thinking ahead, planning every step to her advantage.

She already researched which grocery stores deliver, and every single thing she needs to do is a short walk or bus ride away.

She's thinking about her no car future.

My mom is 91, no car. It absolutely kills her not to have wheels. She says
it's like her legs were cut off. Mom will not use the bus, even tho it's five minutes away from her house.

She is afraid to fall. I get that and drive her everywhere she needs to go.

My bros and I give her a big ton of taxi vouchers to use when we are away in the winter.

Taxi vouchers are a good gift for seniors.

When the time comes for me to hand over my keys, I will buy an electric bike, even if it's a three wheeler with basket.

I'll try for mag wheels.

Not looking forward to giving up my car, but mom says:

"don't bring the mountain to you."

i have never had a driver's license and have lived most of my life in chicago. before that, philadelphia, and went to college before that on staten island in nyc. i thought i would be able to get a license when i moved out here in the woods, but i wasn't able to. i'm used to public transportation, but now i'm about 4 miles from the nearest. i have to rely on the council on aging bus for medical appointments and shopping and occasionally on friends or an expensive taxi trip.i don't like it and am considering the possibility of moving, but the choices are limited.

most small towns are not walkable anymore and few have any public transportation and i really don't want to live in a city again.

http://www.walkscore.com/ might be helpful for anyone who may need to relocate to get around and doesn't want to use public transportation or live in a big city.

i can't volunteer or go many places, when i would like to and some i just can't go to at all except occasionally with a friend who drives. i feel rather like the poor relative and much as i like nature, i am kind of isolated here

having a license should be based on an individuals, abilities to physically and mentally, be able to drive safely. but like ones ability to hold down a job is not judged on an individual basis for older people, so it is with driving...agism again, but hopefully this prejudice can be overcome.

I live in the back of beyond, no public transit and my greatest fear is losing my licence. I love small town life our here on the edge of the Atlantic but dread The Day.
Thanks for all the links.
And I so agree it is ability never age.

I was glad to give up the expense and trouble of car ownership, and I'm very much a homebody so transportation is not a problem. Dependable bus service is close by.

Also a nice little grocery store is just blocks away - close enuf for me and my little shopping cart.

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