by Nancy Lund

To drive or not to drive—that is the question.  When to give up the keys?  How to find other means of getting where we want to go?  These are among the hardest decisions we have to make –for ourselves as well as for a loved one.

Let us be clear, we are not talking about aging per se, but about disabilities that may strike us at any age but are often encountered in our later years.  As we all know, driving a car involves not only our personal safety but that of others.  It is a serious matter and worthy of careful consideration.

Giving up driving is usually a gradual process.  Many of us find that driving at night is difficult. The lights in back of us, as well as those facing us, are distracting.  So night driving is often the first thing we decide to forgo.  Many of us are comfortable driving about our own town – to the market, to church, to a friend’s home.  But we do not feel confident driving out of town, so we surrender that task to others.  How to tell when it is time for us to give up driving altogether?  Or that the time has come to take the keys from our loved one?

The fender-benders and parking mishaps are clues that all is not well.  Of course, we can make excuses but something basic is happening and we ignore these incidents at our peril.

Before the accident happens a good place to start is with your long-time physician   He (or she) can be dispassionate about the situation, knowing the factors that contribute to accidents.   Do we suffer from diminished mobility, poor eyesight and/or hearing?  Can we react to dangers in sufficient time?   Hopefully he will not be moved by our excuses and alibis but will recommend the appropriate solution:  that we stop driving.

Does the physician know what alternatives for transportation exist?  Unlikely.  He may have heard of “Dial-a-Ride” but we do not have that program in Plumas County.   There are limited rides with the Senior Transportation ( Phone 283-3546 in Plumas County, 257-2113 in Lassen).  Besides the trips to and from the nutrition sites, there are some shopping stops.  Out-of-town doctors’ appointments can sometimes be arranged.   But let us look elsewhere.

If your spouse or elderly parents are the ones who must give up driving, you will want to assure them that you will be available to drive them; and if you, personally, can’t, that you will make arrangements for a responsible driver on a regular basis.   I emphasize responsible and regular basis because otherwise your loved ones will be bereft –a big part of their lives cut off.

From my own experience, I can tell you it is not an easy decision.  My husband had an enviable record of safe driving but there came a day when he made numerous errors in judgment.  It was obvious to me that he should no longer be driving.  So my son and I made ourselves available to do the driving.   It was often a bother and he was not happy with the arrangement but –imagining all the wrecks that were avoided- I have no regrets.

One more personal note:  I passed the driver’s written test on my 90th birthday (in record time with only one error!)  I was given a 5 year renewal–much to my surprise.  Two and a half years later I am not driving and although I find it annoying and inconvenient I can live with it.

I am fortunate to live with my son who has agreed to take me wherever I need to go. But I know that such arrangements are not always the case.

So I advise you to have a plan if and when the time comes for you to give up the keys to your car.  Is there a friend, relative, or neighbor who will be willing to take you where and when you need a ride?   I believe a business arrangement is preferable.  Their time and their gas are worth paying for.   And you need not feel that you are taking advantage of anyone or become terribly indebted to them.  Giving up driving may seem like the end of the world, but believe me, you will survive and be the healthier for it!