Safety Article:

When it’s no longer safe to drive

In our fast-paced, mobile world, many older adults find it hard to give up their cars even if they literally can't see the signs that they should.

Starting with a learner's permit at age 16, getting behind the wheel means gaining self-reliance and responsibility. But that license doesn't last forever. Eventually, many of us have to hang up our keys and leave the driving to someone else. But making that decision doesn't mean surrendering independence.

The question is, how do you know when that time has come?

Seniors should regularly assess their driving comfort levels and skills, including the ability to see, hear and react well enough to safely handle a car, according to the Healthy Aging Partnership, a coalition of more than 30 organizations dedicated to the health and well-being of older adults.

AARP, a HAP coalition member, offers driver safety classes as well as a wealth of information on their web site at www.aarp.org to help older motorists. There's even a Close Call Quiz with 10 yes-no questions, including: "Do you sometimes say, 'Whew, that was close?'" and "At times, do cars seem to appear from nowhere?"

Statistics show that, as a group, those aged 65 and older are relatively safe drivers, but the accident rate rises at age 70 and goes up sharply at 80. The risk of dying in a crash also increases substantially for older drivers.

Driving is riskier for older seniors because they are more likely to have problems with vision, hearing, physical flexibility and cognitive skills. The two most common causes of accidents among drivers over the age of 65 are failing to yield the right-of-way and making improper left turns.

Older drivers can sometimes compensate for these problems by changing some of their driving habits. For example, avoid heavy traffic, night driving or even left turns (go one block further and make three right turns).

Look into transportation options before you need them so you can be prepared to get somewhere if driving isn't a good idea, such as during the recent snowstorm in the Puget Sound area.

If and when it's time to quit driving altogether, there are many transportation options. Parking the car for good doesn't have to stall the driver as well. Call the free and confidential information and assistance line at 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464) to talk to an advocate for details about these and other transportation alternatives:

  • Public buses and commuter trains.
  • Shuttle buses and vans: Five donation-based shuttle programs for seniors operate in King County.
  • Access: Metro Transit in King County provides Access vans for those who are unable to use the public bus system due to a disability.
  • Taxi Scrip: This program offers half-priced taxi service to low-income King County residents who have permits to ride the bus at a reduced fare. Eligible riders can pay up to $30 a month (in $5 increments) for $60 worth of taxi service.
  • Neighborhood House: This nonprofit agency offers free transportation for Medicaid recipients, frail seniors attending adult day programs, and others in need of medical care.
  • Volunteer transportation: Most King County residents age 60 and older can take advantage of a volunteer program that provides free rides to and from medical appointments.

For more information about transportation and other issues related to life as an older adult, call 1-844-348-KING. HAP is supported by its partner agencies, including Comprehensive Health Education Foundation and Public Health Seattle & King County.