Few things are as dear to each of us as our independence. The process of growing older tests our independence in many different ways. Often it seems that a driver’s license is an official symbol of one’s independence. In all except the largest cities, public transportation is limited. The structure of suburban America seems to require a car to complete the simple acts of daily living. No one surrenders his or her driver’s license lightly.
Careful studies of accidents show that they increase for older drivers. This is true whether you consider accidents per 100,000 population or accidents per miles driven. The changes that occur with aging and its many associated diseases produce genuine impairment in some older drivers.
Several states have laws that require physicians to report impaired drivers of any age. Even where there are no such laws, the common law holds a physician responsible for injuries to a third person for not reporting an impaired driver. Long before impairment gets to that level, a prudent driver might assess the risk and decide to forego driving.
For drivers approaching the gray area of impairment, it should be remembered that the courts can hold a knowingly impaired driver responsible for both civil damages and criminal liability in the event of accidental injury. Prudent drivers who suspect even minimal impairment should consider the following defensive driving measures:
- Avoid driving at night. Nighttime vision may be impaired by glare and light sensitivity. If glare from oncoming lights is blinding, it is wise to forego driving at night. Careful scheduling can allow a full and active lifestyle without nighttime driving.
- Avoid busy driving times. With careful planning, chores that require driving can be done between the morning, noon, and evening rush hours. With forethought, appointments can be accommodated during less challenging driving times.
- Group your chores. Accidents increase in frequency with miles driven. Making one trip to visit three places offers less risk than making three separate trips.
- Explore the availability of public and private transportation. Many towns offer services for senior transport. Sometimes this may be limited to transportation to a physician’s appointment, but often there are resources to help with shopping trips and other activities of daily living.
- Explore the option of using taxis. Taxis may offer a reasonable, affordable option if their use is optimized. Often by habit we bank at one location, have clothes dry-cleaned at another, shop for groceries at a third, and make a fourth trip to a drug store. Four taxi rides are expensive. Consider using a bank, dry cleaner, grocery, and pharmacy that are located together.
Mobility and involvement remain essential to good health as aging proceeds. Driving may not be the best or safest way to retain mobility.