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By Sharon Ann Hamilton

August 23, 2014 (San Diego)--Dear Retirement Concierge,

My 16-year-old just took his solo voyage as a driver. Since I saw him learning to drive I am nervous at best when he is out there alone without a parent to guide him. At the same time my parents-in-law AND my parents are creeping into their late eighties and I notice a few dents in their cars; they all drive! That brings the tally to five people now on the road with questionable driving skills. I think I’ll be using public transportation for the next few years! What practical ideas do you have for these situations?

Signed: Scared Spitless On the Roads

Dear Spitless:

You are right to be scared. The teen statistics show us that one in five licensed 16-year-old drivers are involved in a crash each year. A few years ago I read a book called Licensed To Drive by Lynn Bieber. She teaches readers to create a special rite of passage for teens by bring their family members together around a circle and having the older drivers tell stories about good or bad driving decisions, and the wisdom they learned.  This ritual underscores the seriousness of driving and receives the 16 year old into the world of adult responsibility.

The bottom line is that when you teach your child how to be independent, at some point you must back off and let him BE independent, let him fly. My son was just 16 when his dad insisted that he drive from San Diego to Yuma by himself to spend the weekend there. I was petrified, not of my son’s driving skills, but of the other crazies on the road. My nails were bitten to the quick!

Your parents may have different challenges; slowdown in response time, loss of clarity in seeing and hearing, loss of muscle strength, medications, or reduced concentration. Every senior driver has different capacities.  My 72-year-old client could not or would not turn her head when backing up. One senior in my T’ai Chi class drove herself every week from La Jolla to Mission Valley, about 25+ minutes to take the class. I was surprised to see her arrive one day in her bright red compact.  She walked with a cane into class, left it at the door, moved her body with the rest of the class and they told me she was 97 years old! I aspire!

Some senior drivers decide to drive slowly, even on freeways, believing they are safer. Not so! Faster cars must swerve around them at high speeds. They also parallel park by sound [crunch, it’s too far], back up slowly to give pedestrians time to run away, and forget their blinkers on. I’ve even seen one couple coming out of a restaurant and the man passed out. The wife would not let anyone call an ambulance saying, “It’s just low blood sugar. He’ll be all right in a minute.” He then, shaking and swaying, wove his way to the driver’s seat of the car and off they drove!

My own observation and opinion is that if someone cannot turn their head to see what is there when they back up, or change lanes, they are a danger to themselves and others no matter the age. Of course if you are a senior the last thing you want to give up is your car.  Unfortunately, statistics show that 14% of fatal traffic accidents and 17% of fatal pedestrian accidents are caused by seniors and reveal a clear message for seniors.  Be responsible!

If your senior is adamant about not giving up the car you might consider holding a ritual like the one for teen drivers. Friends and family gather around and create a rite of passage into letting go of the car.   Believe it or not there are some benefits to giving it up. You save money on the cost of car ownership, you will likely walk or cycle more thus improving your health, your social circle may expand as you reach out to connect with others for rides and you just might enjoy the change of pace leaving the driving stress behind.

To ease into such a transition it is important to know your alternative transportation methods.  Depending upon where you live, you might explore the world with the bus system, community shuttles, walk or cycle more, and ride share.

Over the last three years there are now several companies such as Lyft or Uber who have a fleet of private drivers and for a reasonable fee will take you where you want to go.

I fervently hope that seniors take time to self-evaluate their driving skills. There are several senior classes to refresh skills and rules of the road.  Most seniors I know are very responsible and would be devastated if they harmed anyone while driving. In fact, each of us would have a hard time recovering from such an event.

Should your senior still refuse to face facts, you might have to force the issue although you will not be popular. Lives may depend upon you being the ‘bad guy’.  Seniors can be reported to the DMV or you can discuss this with their doctor who can intervene.

All that being said, seniors, you can put off the giving-up-the-car date with some preemptive actions of your own. Take a defensive driving class and refresh your skills. Keep yourself active at least several times a week. Yoga or T’ai Chi are among other fun activities that help develop balance and flexibility.  Listen carefully to what others say about your driving problems and strive to improve.  When it is time to let it go, be grateful you have had a long and safe run. It will be time for new adventures like learning to manage your life with public transportation and other people’s cars. You might even rediscover the beautiful world around you by walking!

The Retirement Concierge helps Boomers on the verge of retirement to plan, make

and manage life transitions by guiding them through a systematic process of discovery and re-creation where they
write their own rules, make their own plans and reinvent their own lives. (619-818-8575)




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