I remember the day I bought my first car. It was a 10-year-old, burnt orange Ford Fiesta, and I was as proud as I could be that it was mine. That little car gave me a freedom that I hadn’t imagined was possible. Since that time, I have always had a car, and I have to admit that I take for granted the benefits provided by having a car.

The National Council on Aging conducted a survey of people age 60 and over and found that being forced to stop driving was among the top 10 concerns of people as we age.

There is a general consensus in society that older drivers are less safe drivers. This is not necessarily a valid belief. Consumer Reports offers data that shows that the number of drivers involved in crashes — based on the number of miles driven — drops continually from age 16 until the age group of 60-69. At 70, the rate starts to increase. However, it remains lower than the number of drivers involved in crashes in their 20s until drivers are into their 80s.

While age is not necessarily a deciding factor of whether a person should be driving, there are factors that should be considered periodically.

The U.S. Department of Transportation suggests the following checklist when there is concern about a friend or family member’s ability to continue driving safely:

Getting lost on routes that should be familiar?

Noticing new dents or scratches to the vehicle?

Receiving a ticket for a driving violation?

Experiencing a near-miss or crash recently?

Being advised to limit/stop driving due to a health reason?

Overwhelmed by road signs and markings while driving?

Taking any medication that might affect driving safely?

Speeding or driving too slowly for no reason?

Suffering from any illnesses that may affect driving skills?

AAA has a website dedicated to older drivers. The website (www.seniordriving.aaa.com) provides general information to help individuals, families and caregivers to better understand the traffic safety implications of certain health conditions and human behaviors. It offers quite a bit of information and links to resources in an easy-to-maneuver format. 

AAA and AARP offer refresher driver training courses for people 50 and older. Courses are available online and in the classroom. These courses are not about aging, but discuss the changes to cars, laws and other driving conditions in the past 30-plus years. Many of us have never looked back since we got our first driver’s license. Even the most experienced drivers can benefit from refreshing their driving skills.

So, what happens if you or a loved one finds it necessary to stop driving? Transportation can become a challenge. SeniorCare offers a North Shore Transportation Guide that can be helpful. The guide can be downloaded from our website, www.seniorcareinc.org. In addition, check with your local Council on Aging to see if it offers a shuttle service in your community.

Losing the freedom to drive can be difficult. But, it’s all about safety and sometimes has to happen. If I find myself facing this, I hope I’ll have the grace to let it be and remember what Ellen DeGeneres says about life: “You just have to keep driving down the road. It’s going to bend and curve and you’ll speed up and slow down, but the road keeps going.”

Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., a local agency on aging that serves Gloucester, Beverly, Essex, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Topsfield and Wenham.

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