February 21, 2005

What Happens When You’re Too Old To Drive?

It's not something we like to think about here in America, land of age-denial and worship of perpetual youth. But in fact, people who live to old age often live to be too old to drive safely.

If they live in the suburbs, what then? They may be otherwise healthy, and perfectly able to still live alone in their homes. Should they be forced to move anyway? And if so, where to? Or do we expect their younger relatives can provide chauffer service every time they need to go shopping or visit a doctor?

This is an important issue that people simply don't think about when they design car-centric suburbs where it's impossible to get anywhere by any means except the private automobile.

It also becomes a public safety issue, when the elderly refuse to voluntarily give up driving, even if they know their skills have deteriorated.

"The problem is that there are no good alternatives," Natalie Lipman, 85, told the Boston Globe. ''If you want to go somewhere at night, or on the weekend, forget about it."

"As a society, we plan for everything, our retirement, vacations, but none of us plan for the day when we won't be driving, and we need to plan for that day. We need to be prepared," advises Michele Ellicks, the state Registry of Motor Vehicles' elderly outreach coordinator.

Great advice, but how are you supposed to "plan" to give up your car if you live in a town where you can't walk anywhere, there's no decent public transportation, and taxi service is either unreliable or requires significant advanced booking?

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