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Driving an automobile is one of the most important privileges of being an independent adult.  For obvious reasons, it is a privilege most of us never want to give up.  However, as Father Time continues working behind the scenes, we must acknowledge that the day may arrive when we could potentially lose some of our personal independence through a driving retirement.  Afterall, NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, reports that on average, as Americans we are now outliving our safe driving abilities by 7-10 years. 

Weighing the factors about whether it is time to retire from what has probably been a long and successful safe driving career, can be an extremely emotional and sensitive task. However, from the simplest of perspectives, the key to knowing when to make that difficult decision can be summed up in just two words; self-awareness

Each of us must have the self-awareness to recognize any physical or mental decline that might affect our ability to remain safe behind the wheel.  Although hanging up the car keys is rarely simple or easy, self-awareness is the foundation for keeping us safe drivers for as long as possible.      

Physiological functions such as vision and hearing, reflexes, memory, agility, muscle and bone strength, are important functions to consider as we evaluate our ability to remain safe behind the wheel.  Many of these functions naturally diminish as we get older.  Even though there is no “cut-off” age for safe driving, one cannot deny the correlation between the natural aging process and our safe driving abilities. 

The natural changes or ‘slowing-down’ we are likely to experience as we age can be further aggravated by medications, depression and loneliness, as well as cognitive and physical diseases.  As an example of disease accelerating the decline in driving abilities, the Alzheimer’s Association reports that 100% of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease will one day be unable to drive.      

Traffic crashes are more likely to cause serious or fatal injury to an older person as opposed to a younger person, regardless of who is at fault.  In a two-car fatal collision where one driver is 70 or older, the older driver is 3.5 times more likely to be the person killed in the crash.  Injuries that are seen as moderate to severe for most people are often fatal to people aged 70 and older.

As older drivers we may unknowingly begin to minimize the complexity of driving, and simultaneously overestimate our abilities.  To offset this tendency, in addition to being self-aware, it becomes equally important to remain cognizant and alert to what others are telling us. 

Our doctor, clergy member, an occupational/physical therapist, a driving assessor, our spouse, children and other relatives, friends or even a trusted neighbor can all be great sources of information.  We need to value their opinion during this delicate time of transition.   

If we stay open-minded and listen (not just hear!) to what others are trying to tell us, we can avoid having future discussions orchestrated by the police, the BMV, our insurance agent, an emergency room physician, our personal-injury attorney or the court system, the news media, or worse yet…someone else’s grieving family.            

By remaining self-aware and honest with ourselves and listening and respecting the recommendations and opinions of others, we can remain in control of our driving future and will be able to make the decision on our own if and when it ever comes time to hang up our keys. 

This article was authored by Matt Gurwell, founder of Keeping Us Safe.  More information on Keeping Us Safe is available at https://www.keepingussafe.org

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