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How do you know when it is time to hand over the keys?

Published October 27. 2009 05:00PM

Q. My father is 78 and his driving is getting scary. I've been asking him to give up the keys, but he won't do it. Any suggestions about how to handle this?

Here are some questions driving experts recommend asking older motorists to determine if they are still road-worthy:

• Do other drivers often honk at me?

• Have I had some accidents?

• Do I get lost, even on roads I know?

• Do cars or pedestrians seem to appear out of nowhere?

• Have passengers in my car told me they are worried about my driving?

• Am I driving less because I am unsure about my driving skills?

Give these questions to your father. It's extremely difficult to give up driving, but he might be persuaded. I'll share a personal anecdote that could help.

When I was a boy, my grandfather refused to listen to my father who was telling him it was time to quit driving. One afternoon, I was riding with my grandfather. He drifted across the white dividing line in the road several times. He hadn't noticed he was driving erratically. I told him I wouldn't ride with him anymore because I was afraid. He gave the car keys to my father the next day.

Giving up your car has major psychological barriers. It represents a loss of youth, vigor, independence. But it also raises fears about the obvious: How will I get around?

If your father asks this question, tell him that the AAA estimates that the average cost of owning and running a car is about $6,420 a year or $123 a week. You can get around pretty well by taxi, bus and train for $123 a week.

Older adults are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. There were 18.9 million older licensed drivers in 2000 a 36 percent increase from a decade earlier. By 2020, it is estimated that more than 40 million older Americans will be licensed drivers.

Here are some statistics. Older drivers:

• Tend to drive when conditions are safest. They limit their driving during bad weather and at night, and they drive fewer miles than younger drivers.

• Are the least likely to kill other drivers.

• Are more likely than younger drivers to die from injuries in car accidents.

• Wear safety belts more often than any other age groups except preschool children.

• Are less likely to drink and drive.

Many seniors continue to be capable drivers. However, there are changes that affect our skills.

Joints stiffen. Muscles weaken. Eyesight and hearing diminish. Reflexes slow down. Your attention span may shrink. And these are just the normal changes that don't include the affects of disease and the medications we take.

To deal with the effects of aging on our driving, here are some tips:

• Plan to drive on streets you know.

• Take routes that avoid tricky ramps and left turns.

• Add extra time for travel so you don't feel pressed.

• Don't drive when you are tired.

• Avoid listening to the radio or talking with passengers.

• Leave more space than you think you need between you and the car in front of you.

• Use your rear window defogger to keep the window clear at all times.

• Always turn your headlights on when driving.

• If you don't have them, get large mirrors for your car.

• Replace your windshield wiper blades often.

• Take a driving refresher class. Some car insurance companies lower your bill when you pass this type of class.

The Times News, Inc., and affiliates (TIMES NEWS) do not endorse or recommend any medical products, processes, or services or provide medical advice. The views of the author do not necessarily state or reflect those of the TIMES NEWS. The article content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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