We live in a society fascinated with the automobile, in a community that is centered on roads. The thrill of driving is romanticized on screen, glamorized in commercials, and described in literature. It’s no wonder that many may resist letting go of the keys, but the truth is that there are signs that it’s time. Thankfully, there are also ways to adapt, and even benefits to being car-free.

At any stage in life it is important to think of the safety of oneself and others when you’re behind the wheel; but this consideration becomes even more essential in later years. Per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase noticeably starting at ages 70‒74 and are highest among drivers age 85 and older. (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Fatality facts 2013). In 2007 the RAND Corporation did a study that determined Drivers 65 and older are also 16 percent more likely than adult drivers (those 25–64 years old) to cause an accident. With scary facts like these it’s tempting to just hand over those keys. Rather than let this decision be determined only by statistics, however, you may want to consider these signs, published by AARP, as indications that the time has come:

  1. Almost crashing, with frequent “close calls”
  2. Finding dents and scrapes on the car, on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs, etc.
  3. Getting lost, especially in familiar locations
  4. Having trouble seeing or following traffic signals, road signs, and pavement markings
  5. Responding more slowly to unexpected situations, or having trouble moving their foot from the gas to the brake pedal; confusing the two pedals
  6. Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps
  7. Experiencing road rage or causing other drivers to honk or complain
  8. Easily becoming distracted or having difficulty concentrating while driving
  9. Having a hard time turning around to check the rear view while backing up or changing lanes
  10. Receiving multiple traffic tickets or “warnings” from law enforcement officers.

Even if you have brushed off minor incidences, your friends or family may be more aware; if they seem hesitant to get in the passenger seat when you’re behind the wheel you may also want to consider letting go of the responsibility of driving. This area is also getting more complicated to navigate: with increased traffic, construction and those pesky roundabouts you may be more than ready to call it quits!

But what then? How to cope without a car? There’s always public transportation, but it may not be as convenient as other options:

Pierce County Shuttle is available through Pierce County Public Transportation which can be contacted as (253) 581-8000.

Carpooling may be an option; reach out to friends, churches, or community organizations. All are great resources for connecting with people who may enjoy the companionship of an extra rider.

Taking a taxi is another traditional alternative for those who opt not to drive themselves. “High tech” options may also be helpful. Uber and Lyft services can be set up by you, a friend or family member.

Lack of a car may also result, unfortunately, in a decrease in social opportunity, access to services, and shopping. You may want to consider moving into a retirement community where access to amenities and reliable transportation is convenient.

Once you decide to let go of the keys you may be surprised to discover the advantages of being car free: no auto insurance payments, less stress, and maybe a few more enjoyable walks!

So, before you get in the driver’s seat again consider: is this the best way to get around, or is it time to enjoy letting someone else take the wheel?

Susan Pfundt is the Executive Director of Sound Vista Village, a Village Concepts Community in Gig Harbor, Washington. Her experience in Senior Living also includes several years as Program Coordinator, during which she developed a profound awareness of how attitude and lifestyle affect the experience of aging. This year Susan was named Assisted Living Administrator of the Year by the Washington Health Care Association, and Sound Vista Village received the Bronze Quality Award from the American Health Care Association.