Elders Speak Out
MYTH: "If you can't drive, you can't go." NOT TRUE!
We need to change the way we talk about mobility options for seniors. Instead of "taking the keys away," "giving up driving," "quitting," and "losing independence," we need to emphasize positive transitions—looking forward, not backward. It won’t be easy, but we can transform society’s negative approach to older driver issues and that will make it easier for all of us, when that time comes, to make informed, responsible choices about driving retirement.
Here are tips and ideas from seniors who no longer driver who have found that life—after—driving can be equally rich, full, and mobile:
Be sensitive to your feelings at this time.
Expect some emotional reactions. Express yourself with trusted
friends. I found that holding it in can hurt even worse.
When I lost my license to drive a car, that
loss built on previous losses I had suffered, my spouse, and dear
friends. The grief felt like a little death, but I didn’t think
others would understand that. After all, a driver’s license is not
the same as losing someone you love, but the sense of loss was
similar for me. I finally went to a support group that was open to
any kind of loss, and I found a safe place to talk about it there.
That helped a lot.
Without my driver’s license, I was worried
about what I would use for identification when writing a check, or
going places, but I found out that most DMV’s offer a special ID
card, similar in appearance to a driver’s license. I feel better
having that in my pocket, and don’t have any trouble proving my ID.
I learned to make a distinction between
places I need to get to on time, and places where I have more
flexibility about when I arrive. I use taxis for getting to
time-sensitive places, like doctor appointments, the airport, or a
show, and save the dial-a-ride service for when having to wait won’t
ruin my day.
If you’re going to transfer to another bus,
it’s best to look at the schedule and bring along something to read,
or your knitting. I like doing crossword puzzles so I don’t get
frustrating when I have to wait.
Align yourself with others in similar
circumstances I have friends in the same apartment building who no
longer drive. We pool our money to hire a driver for the day or
evening when there’s something special we all want to do, or a show
we all want to see. We found our driver through the local college
employment office and he’s a nice young man.
In aging, all things get harder. All
things, no matter what it is, but that doesn’t mean you stop doing
them. It’s a challenge to find ways of keeping on, but if you don’t,
you might as well roll up in a ball now, and I’m certainly not ready
Have the courage to put yourself out there,
approach people in your building or your neighborhood for rides when
you need them. I didn’t like to do it, but I forced myself to do it
and found, to my surprise, that most folks were glad to help. It
seemed to make them feel good doing it, so it didn’t feel as awkward
after the first time. We both were getting something out of it.
When I have to stop driving, I’ll move to a
place with better public and senior transportation. I’ve been
preparing, looking into what nearby townships and neighborhoods
offer seniors who don’t drive. It much more than where I live right
now, so I know I’ll have to move. That won’t be easy, but if it will
keep me connected to the things I love to do, then moving is the
answer for me.
Having a car isn’t my sole source of
independence. I haven’t lived through war and the Depression and a
whole host of other hardships to be stopped by not having a car! Not
When I couldn’t drive any more, I cried a
lot. My family tried to cheer me up but it was a very sad time for
me. They let me feel the pain, that loss—there really wasn’t any way
out of it but through it. Eventually, I cheered myself when I began
to explore other ways of getting around.
Check your church, temple, or senior center
for a ride share program or connection. Lots of these places now
have ride boards where volunteers who are willing to give rides have
posted their names. When I lost my license and had no way to get and
from worship service, I mentioned it to the congregation. Within a
week, they had organized a volunteer ride team that not only helps
me now but several other non-driving members of our group.
Learn to use the internet, if you have a
computer. I find the older I get, the more I use the internet for
practical things. I can do most of my shopping online, and have my
groceries delivered. Now I don’t have as many errands to do when I
go out, and I make it more of a social occasion.
If you add up all you spend on your car per
month—insurance, maintenance and repairs, gas, parking, tickets,
tolls—and divide that by 12 months, you’ll see how much you would
really have per month to spend on other ways of getting around—if
you sold your car.
The time when I’ll need to hire a personal
aide who can drive a car will probably be coming soon, as it has for
many of my friends. It’s inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be
miserable. It may turn out to be fun in some ways. I chose to take
that approach so it doesn’t get me down. That’s just my personality.
“I anticipate driving another good 15 years, and then I would hope to drive one of those electric vehicles that go up to 25 mph, just on city streets to do errands and things like that. When I can’t drive any longer, it won’t be the end of the world for me. I can still get around. I can walk, I can ask friends, and I’ll take the bus. I’ve taken the bus a few times already. It’s too slow for me, and I don’t like the waiting, but I’ll adjust.”
Bernard Estafen, age 71
Board Member, Co-Opportunity, Santa Monica’s
Homegrown Natural Food Grocer
“One day I was driving, the next day I wasn’t. It was that quick. I had no time to plan. It was such a shock. There was some shame to it. For a while I denied to friends that I wasn’t driving. It took a few months for that to go away but now I’m no longer ashamed. It was more of an internal process. Existential, really. Who am I if I don’t drive? But I came to my senses and realized I am a worthwhile person even though I don’t drive. I still have my driver’s license though. I’m keeping it because I love the picture. Now I’m really relieved that I don’t drive. When I see the way people drive these days, I don’t want to be involved in that craziness.
You are not your ability to drive. You are infinitely more than that."
Evelyn L. Freeman, Ph.D.
Director of Peer Counseling, The Center for
Healthy Aging, Santa Monica
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