Come hell or high water, we need our cars to maintain our independence. Cars help us do what we want, when we want, where we want without being beholden to someone else's schedule. They make shopping super convenient. They make life easy.
But at some point, we know we're driving on borrowed time. Our processing times have slowed down. Our reflexes have grinded to a halt. We're the slowest car on the road. That 3 point turn has turned into a 9 point experiment in frustration. We avoid parallel parking like the plague. Our chin rests on the steering wheel as we drive.
The problem is real. According to the CDC "the risk of being injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash increases as people age."
So how do you know when it's time to hang-up the keys? Here are a few signs:
1. Your vision is less than 100%
Are you hunched over your steering wheel? Do you find it difficult to read street signs? If so, chances are your vision is impaired. You should get your eyes checked annually and ensure your prescriptions are up to date. However, if you're suffering from macular degeneration, glaucoma or cataracts it might be time to get off the road. Having permanent blind spots is not safe for driving.
2. Your car has more dents and scratches than usual
If your side mirror's banged-up, your bumpers need to be buffed and your car needs a new paint job, it's a good indication that your spatial judgment and reaction times aren't what it used to be.
3. You don't like driving at night anymore
If your driving slower or find it difficult to drive at night, it's another sign your vision isn't up to snuff. Go see an eye doctor and get their thoughts on your ability to drive safely given the condition of your vision.
4. Everyone's passing you as you drive
While it's not safe to drive like Mario Andretti on the freeway, it can be just as dangerous to be driving like the Turtle instead of the Hare. If you notice that you're the slowest car on the road, and that everyone seems to be passing you, or honking at you, chances are your driving too slow, which can endanger both you and others on the road.
5. You've had a few too may close calls
Have you tried to change lanes, only to miss the car in your blind spot? Did you make a last second turn onto your street? Did you drive through a stop sign or red light? Did you not notice the pedestrian who had the right of way? These are all signs that your reaction times and processing speeds may not be up to par.
6. You have difficulty getting on to the highway
Is coming off the entrance ramp onto the highway or expressway a nail biting experience? Does the end of the entrance lane creep up on you faster than it used to? Do you ever come close to stopping on the entrance lane because the cars on the expressway are passing you by too quickly. Again, this indecision can not only harm you, it can cause a serious accident to the cars behind you or those your squeezing in front of you.
7. You confuse the brake and gas pedals
Do you ever press the break thinking it's the gas pedal or vice versa? Have you compensated by putting your right foot on the gas and your left on the brake? If so, it's super dangerous and time for you to reassess your driving prowess.
8. You get lost more easily and more often
Just because you're getting a little more confused about your whereabouts doesn't necessarily mean you have Alzheimer's or dementia. Our memories and sense of direction tend to be a little less sharp as we age. However, if you find it's happening more frequently and in places that were once familiar to you, you might want to reconsider taking the wheel.
9. You have difficulty sticking to your lane
Do you get nervous driving in the right lane, with parked cars to your side? How about driving in the left lane, with oncoming traffic a few feet away? Is it causing you to drive in the middle of the road to give you space on either side of your car? If so chances are you're creating a buffer on either side of your car because you're compensating for poor reaction times and poor spacial recognition.
10. You have difficulty backing up
Believe it or not, but backing up a car takes some pretty good hand eye coordination. If you find it difficult to parallel park, or perilous to reverse out of a driveway or parking spot, it could be another sign your coordination has declined.
11. You get sleepy at the wheel
Whether it's your medications or poor health, it's not uncommon for us to get more tired as we age. While it's funny when we get some shut-eye at the Thanksgiving dinner table, falling asleep at the wheel is perilous to everyone's health on the road. If you think your medication is making you drowsy, consult with your doctor and see if there's an alternative. If it's health related (e.g. heart condition) see your doctor and determine whether the underlying condition can be treated.
The challenge in determining when it's time to stop driving, is that none of the above warning signs typically happen over night. Your driving gets gradually worse. Your symptoms, whether it's poor vision or slow reaction times decline over years.
Giving up your keys may be one of the more difficult decisions you'll ever make. It impacts your mobility and independence. But there are things you can do to compensate for the loss of your car. You can schedule delivery of your groceries, pharmacy items and other goods. You can redirect your savings on car insurance, gas, repairs and car payments to Uber, taxis, meal delivery and other services.
But at some point you have to be honest with yourself and ask whether your driving is becoming a danger to yourself or to others. Your life and the life of others depend on an honest answer.