Most boomers don’t stop to think about how they will get around as they grow older.
But Americans are outliving their ability to drive safely — a woman, on average, by 10 years, a man by seven, according to the American Journal of Public Health. Physical or cognitive problems become obstacles. Vision and motor skills can decline with age. Some people can drive safely into their 90s, while others begin to cut back at 65 or earlier.
The loss of one’s prized autonomy, embodied in a personal vehicle, is difficult to imagine. That’s why many put off thinking about what they’ll do when they can’t drive. But this is a big mistake. Below are a few guidelines to help you plan ahead.
Taking Driving Risks
What typically happens is that older adults cut back on driving incrementally. For example, they decide to drive only during daylight or to places for which they know the route well.
Be sure that there is some kind of transportation network in the community that provides door-to-door services.
— Katherine Freund, Independent Transportation Network
Those who don’t have a support system, however, may be particularly prone to drive past the time when it is safe for them, according to Judi Bonilla, a gerontologist and founder of the San Diego nonprofit We Get Around, which advocates that adults who believe they are unfit to drive learn to use public transportation.
But even in areas with well-developed public transportation, whether urban or suburban, the last mile can be the most difficult. Those who are fit can walk to and from bus stops, but others will be limited in how far they can walk. Temperature extremes can also create limitations for people using public transportation.
When Help Is Hard to Get
In car-oriented areas, older adults are likely to rely on friends and family for assistance with transportation. Yet younger family members and friends aren’t always available to drive those in their 80s and 90s, especially when the older adults have migrated to warmer climes, away from family, for example.
What to Consider
Here are some guidelines for preparing for a time when you can’t drive safely:
- Evaluate your current location to determine how you would get to the places you typically need and want to go, and figure out how you would be able to reach them if you were unable to drive. Do you have relatives or friends who would have the time to help you? What is the public transportation like? Can you afford to take taxis or Uber-type services, if they exist where you live? Is there a volunteer transportation network in your community?
- If you are considering a move, “be sure that there is some kind of transportation network in the community that provides door-to-door services,” said Katherine Freund, founder and president of the Independent Transportation Network (ITN), a nonprofit that provides paid rides for older adults through more than 20 affiliates across the country. In order to use the Independent Transportation Network, riders fund a personal transportation account in advance. The ITN provides all riders with a monthly statement that details every payment. Charges are often lower than taxi fees, Freund said. Drivers are required to assist riders with packages. In addition, no tipping is allowed.
- Consider what your needs are going to be over time. Think about the activities you love and the services you will need. What are your hobbies? What kinds of groups might you enjoy and want to join?
- Try out any new community you are considering for three months or longer, especially if it’s a seasonal place, Bonilla said.
- For those who plan to keep driving, AAA provides resources such as ensuring your car fits you ergonomically. AAA also offers information about renewing your driver’s license in your new area.
- If you want to improve your driving, consider an AARP driver safety class.
- Older adults also can use the relatively new transportation services such as Uber and Lyft.
- Ask whether any senior housing communities you are considering have shuttle buses for shopping, religious services and doctor visits.
If and when you decide not to drive, think of your life in a different way, Bonilla advises. “It’s not giving up your independence, it’s doing something in a different way,” she said. “It’s alternatives. People have fear of alternatives and the unknown” such as using public transportation.
To find senior transportation services in your community, visit http://www.ridesinsight.org.