With age comes wisdom
Study shows seniors are likely to restrict their own driving
By Jennifer Hadley 04/23/2014
I was in Ohio visiting my family last week and mentioned that I’d been doing some research on senior driving for my column. Specifically, I was filling my parents in on a startling study from the United Kingdom which found that seniors are far safer behind the wheel of a car than they are walking. In fact, the study, which I found via Reuters, concluded that “Researchers who reviewed data on road accident deaths in the UK found that pedestrians over 70 were five times more likely to die from being hit by a car each time they went out than those age 21 to 29. But elderly drivers were no more likely to die on the road than those in their twenties.”
What a bum deal, right? It immediately made me think of my friend Anita. Anita and I have been friends for several years and she will celebrate her 79th birthday this summer. In the time since we have been friends she has made the decision to stop driving. After adding a few minor bumps and dings to her car over the last 12 months, Anita decided (more or less) on her own, that it was time for her to stop driving. Her husband and son were relieved.
I initially applauded her decision, but that was before learning that she’s more likely to get hurt or killed while on foot than she would in a car, for heaven’s sake. (Spoiler alert: the drivers who are most likely to mow down seniors are teenagers. They are unequivocally the most dangerous drivers on the road — even when they aren’t texting and taking selfies.)
Fortunately, most of the time Anita has friends and family who will take her where she needs to go, and she makes the most of the local bus in Studio City where she lives. Still, she has shared with me that making the decision not to drive anymore … sucks.
She doesn’t like it that I have to pick her up for our weekly coffee get together. She doesn’t like that I have to take her home afterwards. She doesn’t like the fact that she has to wait for her husband to take her to the grocery store, or that she has to have her exercise instructor pick her up for her weekly swim class. With Anita, not being able to drive isn’t demoralizing, per se. It’s frankly just an inconvenience, and for this wildly independent, (read: feisty) senior, that can lead to frustration.
However, as it turns out Anita’s decision to stop driving on her own puts her in very good company. The overwhelming majority of seniors decide for themselves when they are no longer safe behind the wheel. Indeed, most studies find that after age 65 we tend to start restricting ourselves, without being told to do so. Maybe we won’t drive after dark, because our eyesight isn’t as acute as it was before. Maybe we choose simpler routes to avoid major intersections because we suspect that our response times are a little slower than they used to be. Maybe we find that driving becomes less physically comfortable, having to turn our heads all of the time. Maybe we start bumping into things and/or other motorists honk at us. But for most seniors, the decision to give up driving rights will be something they choose to do voluntarily.
However, it appears that my mother has no intention of being one of those seniors. Don’t get me wrong, she is still likely a better, more attentive driver than I am. At closer to 70 than 60, I also have no doubt that she would cream me in any kind of foot race, and she could probably pin me in about three seconds if we ever decided to wrestle. However, as I was explaining that if seniors in California don’t fall into this willing category, that family, friends, doctors, police, or basically anyone else can request that the DMV conduct a reevaluation of a senior’s driving, my mama piped up.
“You better think twice before you try to do that to me,” she declared. And you know what? I will think twice, because the last thing I want is her getting run over by a car while on foot because I decided she was no longer capable of driving safely.
But in the meantime, it can’t hurt to go tell her how smart I think Anita is for deciding on her own to hang up her keys.
Contact Jen Hadley at firstname.lastname@example.org.