Driving Retirement: When it's time to give up the keys

Posted at 6:00 AM, Mar 19, 2020

At this point, most of us get to where we are going in the blink of an eye. Driving is part of our DNA but at some point or another, it may be time for us to hang up the keys. That's why we are starting this discussion on driving retirement.

"We found it through my husband's neurologist," Suzanne Kraus said. Her husband has had some health problems in the past year, and she said they took some extra precautions when it came to driving.

"I had noticed his inability to find places when driving, listing to the left a little bit," Kraus said.

With a referral from his doctor and to find out if it was safe for him on the roads, he enrolled in the Fitness to Drive program at Health Promotion Partners. It's the only Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist in the area.

There, occupational therapists take an objective, in-depth look into whether someone is still fit to drive. They use all kinds of cognitive and skills tests and a driving test of course.

"It's a huge peace of mind for family members, kind of in either direction. Like - I thought he was fine and this confirms that or on the flip side, it confirms he's not," owner and occupational therapist Terri Cassidy said.

They say on average about 15 to 20% of people don't pass their class and that information is sent back to the doctor who would recommend to the DMV that they lose their license. Other drivers may get certain restrictions on their license while others are good to go.

"We have people come in, very upset, very worried and defensive, and they say 'you are going to take my license away' and we say that won't happen, I'm not authorized to take your license" occupational therapist Kathryn Seibert said.

Results are not age specific and it all depends on the individual.

"We have seen people in their 60s that aren't safe to drive and those in their 90s perfectly safe to drive," Seibert said.

But they say at some point or another, it's likely you or someone you know will need to give up the keys. Current research shows men are outliving their ability to drive by six years while women outlive their ability to drive by 10 years.

Some red flags to look for to see if it may be time to give up the keys:

  • Would you ride as a passenger in their car or let your child?
  • Walk around their car every once in a while - are there unexplained dings or dents?
  • Does a half hour trip to the store end up taking your loved one more than two hours?

And you can ask yourself some questions as well. "When out on the road, is everyone around you going too fast? Are they honking at you, getting impatient? Often times clients come in and say, 'I drive fine, it's everyone else, they're crazy.' That's a sign to us something is going on with their perception," Seibert said.

Driving gives us independence, so losing the keys isn't easy. That's why it's important to make a plan to retire from driving. Start trying out ride shares or the bus. Make plans with family or friends to take you to the store or church.

It doesn't have to be isolating and there can be some cost savings too.

"We encourage people to talk about the cost of owning a car. People will say, 'I can't afford ride share it's too expensive.' But when you take into account insurance, tags, gas, maintenance and all those things that go along with owning a car, you might be surprised you could ride share all year long and it still may not be as expensive," Seibert said.

For Suzanne, her husband did give up his license. He didn't want to talk to us but she was happy to share their story and encourage others, "The best part for us was that it was someone independent telling us he couldn't drive, he knew I had concerns."

They've been making adjustments. "He's been able to use an Uber. He goes to the Y. If I can't take him, he'll Uber. There's options out there," she said.

She says they feel safer now for themselves and others. "Stand up to face your challenges. Stand up to them and live life to the fullest."

Another thing the specialists mentioned to us is if you have a loved one who can't drive, try to keep things spontaneous sometimes. Maybe surprise them on a nice day with a trip to the park or the ice cream parlor. Don't let their lives start to revolve only on a schedule depending on others to get to places.

There is a cost for the program and insurance doesn't cover it, although you need a referral from your doctor. To find out more about Health Promotion Partners click here.

There are a lot of resources for talking to your loved ones about when it may be time to give up the keys. Click here for Drive Smart Colorado resources and herefor more home and car safety guides from The Hartford.

To find a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist to help a driver out of state click here.

Have an issue you want Driving Change to address or a question about this story, contact us at driving