Aging, Driving and Freedom

Whether cruising the open road or stuck in a traffic jam, driving has been the American way our entire lifetimes. The way many communities are built more for our cars than for people, driving is the cornerstone of our independence and freedom. Most people are faced with the reality of diminished ability and the decision to stop driving at some point in their life. It can be a complex and emotional issue for individuals and families, and the practical implications of “getting around” are no less difficult. The promises of more human-centered community design with a broad range of mobility options are not a reality for many Americans and new breakthroughs like driver-less cars are still on the horizon in 2019.

Before 1967 it was common practice for auto insurers to cancel policies for their clients who turned age 65, effectively canceling their independence. Armed with data that older drivers are among the safest on the road, AARP partnered with an insurer to develop a plan that could not be canceled due to age. The industry followed suit and by today age cannot be a factor in policy cancellation, however some states have more stringent license renewal rules for older drivers.

Also in 1967 to help older drivers maintain independence, AARP volunteers began offering National Safety Council defensive driving courses, today called AARP Driver Safety. Many states including Minnesota mandate a 10% discount on insurance premiums for drivers age 55+ who complete an approved course.

Nevertheless, for most of us there will come a time to stop driving. It’s common for drivers to notice changes and adjust their own habits, for example, to avoid driving at night or on the freeway. Sometimes it’s a family member or loved one who might notice first and express concern. AARP has developed a program called “We Need to Talk – Family Conversations with Older Drivers” to help with this serious issue. It’s free and available online at https://www.aarp.org/auto/driver-safety/we-need-to-talk/.

Starting the conversation is difficult, and understanding the deep-seated value driving holds in our culture will help start it with dignity, love and respect.

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Jay Haapala, Associate State Director with AARP Minnesota and may be reached at 651-726-5654 or jhaapala@aarp.org.