Seniors: When To Turn Over The Car Keys

Knowing when to turn over the car keys is an extremely difficult decision to make. Just thinking about making the change can be overwhelming, and many seniors panic at the thought of losing their freedom.

You probably use your car to run errands, go shopping, visit friends, attend church, or just enjoy a sunny ride. The richness of your days depends on your ability to get around. However, when your safety is at stake, you need to be honest with yourself. Are you ready to turn over the car keys?

Driving Ability & Age

As you age, driving can become more difficult. Understanding how age can affect your driving ability is the first step in knowing when it may be best to give up your driving privileges.

A few of the mental and physical changes that may hurt your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely include:

  • Your vision.
    • As you age you won't be able to see as great of a distance, which can affect your reaction time.
  • Hearing difficulty.
    • The ability to recognize sirens, horns, and other warnings is important in order to stay safe and obey the law.
  • Slower reflexes.
    • The ability to quickly react to hazards will diminish.
    • Finding streets or reacting to stopped vehicles will be more challenging, increasing your chances of collision.
  • Joint pain.
    • Pain in the neck can make it difficult to look in side mirrors or check your blind spot when changing lanes.
    • Knee pain may affect your ability to reach the gas and brake pedals.
    • Shoulder problems can make steering and shifting more difficult.
  • Reduced coordination.
    • This will make it harder to maintain control of your vehicle.
  • Mental changes.
    • The ability to divide your attention as you try to multi-task on the road will be harder because of slight changes in the brain.
    • This will make locating road signs, pedestrians, traffic signals, and other vehicles more of a challenge.
  • Other health conditions.
    • Parkinson's disease, dementia, and other illnesses may make it impossible to operate a vehicle safely.
      • Speak with your doctor if you have a condition that may affect your ability to operate a motor vehicle.

In addition to these mental and physical changes, also be aware that taking prescribed medications can affect your ability to drive, too.

Read your medication labels carefully and consult with your doctor or pharmacist to see if your prescriptions allow for safe operation of heavy machinery.

Warning Signs

As your mental and physical health declines, it's important to remember that staying safe on the road is the number one priority.

Some of the warning signs showing your ability to drive safely is beginning to decline include:

  • Difficulty changing lanes.
  • Suddenly drifting into other lanes.
  • Problems judging distance when braking.
  • Forgetting to use turn signals.

A few of the more severe “red flags" which may indicate that you can no longer operate a vehicle safely include:

  • Multiple incidents when an accident was close to occurring.
  • New dents or scratches on the car.
  • Missing stop signs or red lights.
  • Collisions with non-moving objects, such as:
    • Fences.
    • Mailboxes.
    • Garage doors.
    • Curbs.
  • Collisions with other vehicles.
  • An increase in traffic violations.
  • Becoming lost frequently or difficulty navigating.
  • Several incidents of road rage.

Surrendering Your License

When deciding whether or not it's best to give up driving, it's important to assess your abilities and have an honest discussion with your family.

If you decide to voluntarily surrender your license, you can replace it with a state identification card. Here's what you'll need to do:

  • Go to your local DMV.
  • Fill out any voluntary surrender forms, if applicable.
  • Apply for an identification card.
  • Pay any required fees.
    • Fees will vary by state. Please check with your local DMV.

Once you've received your identification card and no longer intend to drive, there are a few other things to consider:

  • Cancel your auto insurance.
  • If you have AAA or other road side services, cancel these as well.
  • Sell or donate your car.

Transportation Alternatives

Just because you've decided to give up your driver's license doesn't mean you can't still be independent. With a little planning and research, you'll find that getting around without a car is easier than you think—and could be cheaper too.

A few of the alternate methods of transportation you can consider include:

  • Public transit. This includes:
    • Buses.
    • Trains.
    • Streetcars.
    • Trolleys.
  • Transportation Network Companies (TNC), such as:
    • Uber.
    • Lyft.
  • Volunteer transportation programs.
    • Available in most cities through religious or other nonprofit organizations.
  • Paratransit services.
    • Available for qualifying adults with disabilities.

For more information on transportation options for seniors, please visit our Getting Around Without Driving page.

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