To drive or not to drive? That is the question …

Not long ago I saw an elderly gentleman shuffling along the footpath, looking down and watching where he was walking.  He came to a set of traffic lights and walked down the sloped gutter onto the road against a red walking signal.  Concerned that he hadn’t noticed the signal and perhaps wasn’t seeing the traffic I parked as quickly as possible and walked back to assist. This is what I discovered …

The gentleman had used the sloped gutter to get onto the road and then walk to his car. I watched him climb into the drivers seat and drive away.  Ever since I’ve wondered about our connection to our drivers license and driving.

Why drive?

Being able to drive generally gives us a sense of freedom and choice about our lives. It’s quicker and easier to go to the shops and visit friends.  Driving holidays can be a delight as we’re able to visit places and people that we may not otherwise get to either on a tour or using public transport. Our own car is comfortable and clean and easy to get to.  We can decide who sits next to us or with us in that same space, we can choose our own music, and we can have the car set up just the way we like it (tissues, hand cream, water, and sunglasses all have their place). However, there are some realities of ageing that means our attachment to driving may not be practical, sensible, or safe.

The Facts on Driving & Ageing

According to a study by Anstey (2012) injury rates increase for older drivers due not to infringements such as speeding or alcohol, but more with merging and at intersections, with most accidents involving multiple vehicles.  Anstey’s study states that as we age:

  • Our visual impairment increases;
  • We are physically more frail with a tendency towards joint stiffness;
  • Our reaction times and processing speeds is slower.

Yet, it is vision, physical function and cognitive ability that are essential for us to drive safely.

In a separate study using on-road driving tests of people 70+ without dementia who lived in the community and drove regularly, it was found that critical errors increased with age. And, the participants own assessment of their driving ability was not a reflection of their actual driving ability.

It all sounds so doom and gloom.  Maybe there’s another way …

How to Stay Driving and The Alternative

Of course, most of us want to continue driving and some of us may be able to drive well into our 80’s and 90’s as we are all different with different capability.  Exercise may also be the key to extending our driving life.  In their research examining driving and our ageing population, The Hartford Center for Mature Market ExcellenceSM and the MIT AgeLab found that exercise positively affects our driving ability. This infographic and fact sheet outlines the exercises that they found assisted with driving.

Whilst giving up our licence may be incredibly difficult, perhaps a different attitude could reduce the difficulty. For example, I recently discovered this story from a woman who likened giving up driving to the death of a loved one, divorce, and moving.  However, her experiment of not driving was a pleasant surprise thanks to #technology, #innovation and the #disruption of traditional public transport modes with the advent of services such as Uber.

Me? I’m not ready to give up my drivers license yet. What I do hope is that I’m like another woman I know in her early 80’s who knew when it was time to stop driving for her own safety and that of others.

What about you? Are you still driving but wondering every now and then if perhaps it’s not a good idea? Do you know people who are driving who you think are a danger to themselves and others on the road?  What’s your experience?


An Amusing Tale … (with thanks to Professor Brodaty)

My neighbour was working in his garden when he was startled by a car that came crashing through his hedge right into his front garden

He rushed to help an elderly lady driver out of the car and sat her down on a lawn chair.

He said with excitement, “You appear quite elderly to be driving”.

“Well, yes, I am,” she replied proudly. “I’ll be 97 next month, and I am now old enough that I don’t even need a driver’s licence anymore.”

“You don’t need a driver’s licence anymore!?”

“That’s right… The last time I went to see my doctor, he examined me and asked if I had a driver’s licence. I told him ‘yes,’ and I handed it to him.

“He took scissors out of the drawer, cut the licence into pieces, and threw them in the waste basket, saying, ‘You won’t be needing this anymore.’

“So I thanked him and left!”




2 replies
  1. Tracey
    Tracey says:

    Great post, and cute anecdote. This has been a real sadness for the aunties and uncles in my family, particularly the women who relished the independence, as much appreciating the practicality. I’ve an aunt who is a capable driver at 85, but has a restriction limiting her driving radius to 15k’s – that suits her. But three years on from handing back her licence in, my mother still misses the sense of freedom driving gave her. You may also be interested in this story from Background Briefing a few years back.


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