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Giving Up the Car Keys

Woman Helping Elderly Woman There was a time when getting your license was right of passage. There was nothing like hitting the open road, the freedom, and the independence it brought. For many, it was one of the biggest events in their lives. But no one thinks about the time it is taken away from you.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau the number of people age 65 and older in the United States in 2015 was 47.8 million. This group accounted for 14.9 percent of the total population. By the year 2060 this number will grow to 98.2 million people.

Today, Florida leads the nation with more than 19 percent of its population over the age of 65. It is estimated that there are more than 750,000 drivers over 80-years-old on the roadways. Florida drivers over the age of 80 are required to pass a vision test when they renew their license; however, there is no physical or other examination required.

Every day families and loved ones are having the difficult and often dreaded discussion about when to quit driving. For the family, it’s about safety for their loved one and others on the road; however, for the driver, it can be very emotional -- fear of growing old; of being helpless or trapped; of becoming a burden. Driving is often a source of identity, dignity and independence.

How does one start? You should first monitor and observer the driver driving (an evaluation / assessment) to see if any problems and specifically patterns arise. Problem indicators can include getting lost, failing to obey traffic signals, easily distracted, hearing or sight issues, poor driving techniques and judgements (slow, fast, nervous), slow reactions times, and any unknown dents in the vehicle.

If you notice any signs, it is important to begin the discussion and suggest they stop driving. It may be easier to start encouraging drivers to stay off highways, to drive locally, and to only drive during the daytime and not during rush hours. Help them find safer, alternative transportation like golf carts, bicycles, buses, trains, and Uber. Research services (Publix, Amazon, a church, or community group) that delivers groceries or can run their errands, or take them to a doctor’s appointment.

You may wish to involve an expert, such as a doctor and even law enforcement, to assist in helping them understand the importance of the discussion or to make the final decision to revoke their driving privileges, not you. They may be able to find a short-term remedy to an issue (glasses, PT, medication usage, driver-refresher course, or a car adjustment or retrofit) or assist in long-term solutions and a transition plan to handing over the keys.

A recent Sun-Sentinel article – Having the tough talk: When should senior drivers give up their car keys? provided key points of the Florida Department of Transportation’s Safe Mobility for Life Program Guide on how to start a conversation with a family member who may have lost the ability to drive, which included:

  • Do not bring the issue up at a family gathering.
  • Do not bring it up during another stressful situation.
  • Do not threaten or bully.
  • Be calm at all times, even if they are not.
  • Be respectful and recognize that the loved one has years of driving experience.
  • Be informed about aging issues.
  • Discover how to improve functioning through different strategies.
  • Find out how to use adaptive equipment.
  • Explore what community transportation options are available.
  • Limit access to the vehicle or keys, or disable the vehicle, if necessary.
  • Be helpful

Family members should help their driving loved ones become aware of how age can affect driving, and then help them transition from driving. This discussion can start happening long before it is time to “take away the keys.” AAA Foundation says it important to know that a driver’s chronological age is not a good predictor of driving ability. What counts on the road is performance and both physical and mental fitness.