4 Warning Signs: Giving Up the Car Keys

How to know when you should stop driving for good.

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Driving is a rite of passage in the United States. Remember when you passed your driving test and took your parents' car out onto the open road? Unfortunately, there comes a time in life when you need to think about hanging up those car keys.

In most parts of the country, the privilege of driving is conferred at age 16. But judging how and when to take away or limit access to the keys is harder. In areas of the country without reliable public transportation, losing your ability to drive can feel like a life sentence of isolation and dependency.

"Nobody should have their car keys taken away simply because they reach a certain age," says AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger. But the risks are too real to ignore. There were, on average, 3,692 fatalities each year in the United States for drivers age 65 and older between 2002 and 2006. And that number is projected to increase significantly by 2025, when those 65-plus will account for 25 percent of all drivers, according to a new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report. Caring.com and the National Safety Council estimate that this large increase in senior drivers could result in up to 100,000 senior driving deaths between 2008 and 2028.

Here are a few of the scarier signs that it might be time to give up the keys, or at least limit your driving:

  • Arthritis makes it too painful to look over your shoulder when changing lanes or backing up.
    • Vision impairment limits your ability to accurately follow the speedometer, read street signs, detect pedestrians, follow the flow of traffic at intersections (where most accidents involving the elderly occur), or see at night.
      • Hearing loss makes you unable to detect and respond to essential noises like horns, screeching tires, and sirens.
        • An illness or prescription drug causes drowsiness, blurred vision, confusion, or tremors.
        • Many baby boomers fear having "the talk" about limiting driving with their elderly parents. A recent Caring.com online survey found that people with elderly parents would rather talk about funeral arrangements and selling their home than driving issues.

          You can get ideas on how to start a conversation about limiting driving with an aging relative or access to tips for improving your own driving abilities at SeniorDrivers.org, AARP, The Hartford, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

          Caring.com, a for-profit San Mateo, Calif.-based website that provides information for people who are caring for aging parents, also has a good state-by-state list of driving laws for the elderly.