The first driver’s license is a landmark moment for a teenager — freedom to move about independently. Surrendering the last driver’s license is equally monumental for older adults — the end of transportation independence. There are ways to make this transition less traumatic.
The Seattle Times reported that the number of Washington state drivers age 65 or older has surged since 2010 by 41 percent to more than one million.
While this might sound alarming, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that nationwide, the accidents-per-mile rate for drivers 80-84 is significantly lower than that for drivers 16-24 and slightly lower than for drivers 24-29.
While Washington has set a very specific age when teenagers may start driving, there is no mandatory age to quit. Vision problems, physical limitations, medications, mental issues and medical history are all factors in making the decision to stop driving. Surgery, illness or an accident may end driving abruptly, but for most people it is a gradual process.
AARP offers safe-driving classes for seniors in both classroom and online formats. AAA offers training to help drivers extend their driving careers. These courses are especially designed to give older drivers tools for staying behind the wheel without sacrificing safety.
By starting the transition long before it’s forced upon them, aging drivers have time to become familiar with alternatives. At the same time, they may use these options to avoid driving in certain conditions and times in the interests of safety.
Alternatives to driving
As they practice using buses and rail systems, older adults become comfortable with routes, fares, schedules and special features for older adults. They get a senior ORCA card and learn about the most convenient routes and stops. They find that avoiding the hassles of driving in heavy traffic and parking is a welcome benefit of transit travel.
Metro has helpful online tools for planning trips. It also offers free rider training. For people who are physically unable to use regular transit buses, there is Metro’s Access system, requiring a medical referral. The Metro Access website explains Access and links to other Metro tools as well.
Taxis and for-hire cars are another option to practice. Whether a shared van trip to the airport or a local Uber or Lyft ride, these are options worth becoming familiar with.
“Coming of Age… Again” is edited by the Kirkland Senior Council, a group the City of Kirkland created in 2001 to advocate for older adults in our community. The council is made up of people living or working in Kirkland who want to help improve and maintain the quality of life for people in Kirkland as they grow older. Membership is open throughout the year.