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We all want to maintain our independence by driving as long as possible. The fear of losing independence—and thus possibly having to move from home—keeps many older adults driving when it is no longer safe to do so. Some signs that driving has become a problem:
- Feeling more nervous while driving.
- More traffic tickets or warnings in the last year.
- More dents or scratches on the car or on curbs, garage walls, or doors, etc.
- Trouble consistently staying in a single lane of traffic.
- Friends not wanting to ride with you.
- Trouble seeing or following road signs and pavement markings.
- Difficulty concentrating while driving.
- Medications that may be affecting your ability to concentrate or drive safely.
- Medical conditions that may affect your driving ability.
- Response time to unexpected situations is slower than it used to be.
- Trouble moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal.
- Getting lost more often.
- Difficulty in judging gaps in traffic at intersections and on entrance/exit ramps.
- More frequent “close calls.”
- Other drivers honking at you more often.
- Trouble seeing the sides of the road when you are looking ahead (cars/people “coming out of nowhere”)
Those concerned about an older adult's mental and/or physical ability to contnue driving can seek help in several ways.
- AARP Driver Safety Program 1-888-227-7669
This course (two four-hour sessions) is designed by AARP to alert older adults to normal age-related changes that affect driving capabilities. The course is also intended to help drivers improve their skills. Tennessee requires insurance companies to discount the cost of collision coverage for those older adults who successfully complete the course. There is a
small fee for the classes. AARP also offers an online course (http://www.aarp.org/drive/online) that can be completed at one’s own pace.
- Family doctor or ophthalmologist can intervene
Call before an appointment and ask that the senior be evaluated regarding the ability to drive. The doctor can be the deliverer of the unwelcome news.
- Disable the car for dementia patients
1. Disconnect the negative battery cable (usually black).
2. File key so that it does not start the car.
- Driver Evaluation
These programs, conducted by occupational and physical therapists, are designed to evaluate the driving abilities of the disabled or elderly, including physical, psychological, perceptual, and cognitive status. Necessary adaptive driving equipment and training may be recommended.
- Adaptive Driving Aids
These devices can make it easier for older adults to get in and out of a car. Driving aids include easy grip key holders, oversized rearview mirrors and seat belt extenders. Some websites carrying these devices are:
Many older adults self-limit their driving. They may no longer drive at night or in rainy weather. They may no longer drive to new places or to locations where interstate highway driving is necessary. They may go to only a few familiar places near their home such as church, grocery, or drugstore.
More action may be called for if the older adult fails to recognize his/her declining ability. If someone diagnosed with dementia or early stage Alzheimer’s disease continues to drive, there could be legal liability.
When you talk with them, emphasize that you don’t want them to get hurt or to hurt others. Help arrange other means of transportation. There may be church members in the neighborhood who would be glad to pick up the older adult for services. There are also personal support service agencies that provide transportation for a fee.
There may be a minimum of hours, so work to consolidate trips and appointments. A good birthday or holiday gift is to pay for a certain number of trips with one of these services.
Travel training is a new service in some communities. The local transit system will instruct new riders on using the bus system, will accompany them on several trips, and then give a free pass for a period of time.
Alternatives to Driving
- Congregational groups
- Nonprofit Agencies i.e. Senior Ride Nashville
- Help at home companies
- Special agencies (e.g., the American Cancer Society) offer rides to medical appointments in many locations.
- Assisted Living facilities generally provide transportation for their residents.
- Most counties provide ambulance service for non-life-threatening needs.
- Some senior centers offer limited transportation services.
Public Transit Systems
In Tennessee public transportation is provided through a variety of government agencies. All have some means to transport those with disabilities through accessible vehicles. Some may have special rates or discount passes for older adults.
Rural Tansit Systems
Delta Human Resource Agency 901-475-1460:
Serving Fayette, Lauderdale, rural Shelby & Tipton Counties.
East TN Human Resource Agency 800-232-1565:
Serving Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson, Knox, Loudon, Monroe, Morgan, Roane, Scott, Sevier & Union Counties.
First TN Human Resource Agency 423-461-8200:
Serving Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi & Washington Counties.
Hancock County Rural Public Transportation 423-733-2183
Mid-Cumberland Human Resource Agency 800-273-3082:
Serving Cheatham, Dickson, Houston, Humphreys, Montgomery, Robertson, Rutherford, Stewart, Sumner, Trousdale, Williamson
& Wilson Counties.
Northwest TN Human Resource Agency 731-587-2903:
Serving Benton, Carroll, Crockett, Dyer, Gibson, Henry, Lake, Obion & Weakley Counties.
South Central TN Development District 931-381-4366:
Serving Bedford, Coffee, Franklin, Giles, Hickman, Lawrence, Lewis, Lincoln, Marshall, Maury, Moore, Perry & Wayne Counties.
Southeast TN Human Resource Agency 423-949-2191:
Serving Bledsoe, Grundy, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Polk, Rhea, Sequatchie & the non-urbanized areas of Bradley & Hamilton Counties.
Southwest Human Resource Agency 731-989-5111:
Serving Chester, Decatur, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henderson, Madison & McNairy Counties.
Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency 931-528-1127:
Serving Cannon, Clay, Cumberland, DeKalb, Fentress, Jackson, Macon, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Smith, Van Buren, Warren & White Counties.
Urban Transit Systems
- Bristol TN Transit System 423-989-5586
- Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority 423-629-1411
- Cleveland Urban Area Transit System 423-478-1396
- Clarksville Transit System 931-553-2430
- Franklin Transit Authority 615-790-4005
- Gatlinburg Mass Transit System (Sevier Co.) 865-436-3897
- Jackson Transit Authority 731-423-0200
- Johnson City Transit 423-434-6260
- Kingsport Area Transit Service 423-224-2613
- Knoxville Area Transit 865-637-3000
- Memphis Area Transit Authority 901-274-6282
- City of Morristown/LAMTPO 800-232-1565
- Nashville Metro Transit Authority 615-862-5950
- Murfreesboro/Rover Transit System 615-217-6837
- Oak Ridge Transit System 865-482-2785
- Pigeon Forge Fun Time Trolley 865-453-6444