How do you know when it’s time to hang up your driver’s license?

By Karen Cifala

I bet each one of us knows an elderly or disabled person that has refused to give up their driver’s license and the list of reasons is long. Truth is, and I understand this is a touchy subject, a survey done by AAA reported that almost 90 percent of senior drivers polled said losing their license would be problematic for their lives. It still doesn’t change the facts. Making a decision about driving is not really about age or disease specifics, it’s about driving performance.
Three true life situations below suggest differing perspectives on this very topic. Here is what they had to say about their personal driving situation.
Situation #1: Woman 83 years old, COPD, lost sight in one eye and has a severe case of atherosclerosis that is life threatening, doctors says she shouldn’t drive but she still does.
“Hopefully most people are aware of the changes going on in their body. I drive to and from the nursing home (1/2 mile back roads) and to the grocery store. I do have moments of uncertainty about my own proficiency and I do have some close calls, especially in a large parking lot. When someone pulls in front of me I am aware that my reaction time is not very good. You can’t kid yourself, and you have to be able to admit it to yourself that your driving is not so good anyway. I believe self-doubt is the primary reason I would eventually stop driving altogether”.
Situation # 2: Woman 90 years old, good health, still drives and lives by herself.
“If you think it’s going to snow, go to the store early and pick up your medications. I don’t drive in bad weather anymore because I don’t see as well. Of course, it makes sense that if you feel bad or are dizzy you shouldn’t get in your car, or if you are in a bad mood. I always wear at least one of my hearing aids when I drive and of course sometimes my car won’t start. I am much more alert in the morning, and there is less traffic, so it’s a good idea to make your doctor appointments in the morning”.
Situation #3: Man, 70 years old, diagnosed with early-onset glaucoma and lives with his wife who is in good health.
“I am basically blind in one eye, and I have lost my peripheral vision in the other eye. Even though this was an unanticipated intrusion I felt it was necessary to make the call to stop driving for my own safety, and I didn’t want to put my wife in an unsafe position or anyone else. My whole life changed considerably and I don’t get out as much as I used to. I miss having the independence, but I am very fortunate to have my wife who can drive which does give me more flexibility than if I was alone”.


Any of these sound familiar? From what I’ve learned a self-assessment is always a good place to start. Ask yourself “Am I still a safe driver”? If you can answer “yes” to any of the following, then a follow-up may be needed to ensure safe driving. Virginia GrandDriver website offers the following signs for self-assessment: Have you ever …

  • Suffered a stroke, heart attack or diminished eyesight?
  • Experienced difficulty in negotiating sharp turns and intersections?
  • Hesitated over right-of-way decisions or situations you once took for granted?
  • Been surprised by the sudden presence of other vehicles or pedestrians?
  • Received negative feedback from other drivers?
  • Become lost on familiar routes?
  • Felt nervous or exhausted after driving?
  • Been cited for traffic violations or found at fault in crashes?
Self-awareness is the key to making a good decision. Sometimes even your best intention of letting a loved one know they should not be driving seems like the hardest thing you will ever have to do. The Virginia GrandDriver website ( has a whole host of resources and publications to learn more about how to compensate for aging changes for Seniors, Caregivers, and Professionals.
In The State of Virginia has special rules that apply to drivers over 75 years old that seek to renew their licenses. They must renew every five years; drivers younger than 75 must renew every eight years. Drivers 80 and older must renew in person. For those 80 and older a free vision test is required and can be done at the DMV. An exam can also be performed by an outside ophthalmologist or optometrist within 90 days of the renewal request and they must complete a Customer Vison Report. A written and road test may be required at renewal in the discretion of DMV personnel.

Clarke County offers several transportation assistance options if you don’t have a caretaker or family member that can drive you to an appointment. Plus it might give you a chance to get out and socialize a bit as well as continue to help yourself maintain your independence. It’s never too late to try something new.

WellTran, 540-635-7141 Option #1
Offered through Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging. Fee based for persons over 18 who have a disability, and persons aged 60 and older.
Virginia Regional Transit, 540-955-9333 Offered Mon – Fri 9am to 1pm $1.00 per ride. Pick up directly from your house in Clarke Co. Mondays they go to Winchester and Thursdays are free.
FISH of Clarke Co., 540-955-1823. Offered to all Clarke Co residents, all volunteer free service to doctor and hospital visits and appointments. Can provide long distance drives to Martinsburg or Charlottesville if needed.
Karen Cifala is a senior real estate realtor for Remax Roots, 101 E. Main St. in Berryville. Please continue your generosity of contributing gently used iPods for donation to the Hospice Music Therapy program. You can drop them off at her office or call or email her at 303-817-9374,