EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in the November 2012 issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report. To subscribe, click here.
It's tough to think about giving up your car keys. But it's likely that day will come. Poor vision, slower reaction time and other age-related impairments can take a toll on a senior's ability to drive safely. Sometimes a person's driving days can end suddenly, from a stroke or broken hip.
So how will you get around when you retire from driving? Long before you sell the car, you should investigate local transportation alternatives. Senior-oriented services vary widely by community, from specialized bus shuttles on fixed routes to door-to-door car services for non-emergency medical visits.
Figuring out your options will take some legwork. Start with Eldercare Locator (www.eldercare.gov; 800-677-1116), which will direct you to local aging agencies. The agency will let you know about senior-related transportation options offered by local governments, nonprofit organizations and private companies. Also contact local senior centers, places of worship and retirement communities for more choices.
Many public transit systems provide "dial a ride" services for residents who are unable to use the regular bus or subway systems. Dial-a-ride shared vans, which may offer a wheelchair lift, usually provide door-to-door service by appointment.
Chances are, nonprofits that serve seniors will offer transportation. In Seattle, for example, the nonprofit Senior Services uses volunteer drivers for free shuttles. Individuals can get rides, in shared vans or in a volunteer's car, to medical centers, grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and other places.
Another nonprofit, Independent Transportation Network (www.itnamerica.org; 207-857-9001), has 21 affiliates in cities across the U.S. Seniors pay membership dues and fees based on mileage.
More than a year ago, Evelyn Rines, 89, gave the ITN program in Portland, Maine, her 2001 Saturn for a $2,000 credit toward rides. Rines, who has heart and joint problems, uses the service to go to medical appointments, the drug store and the hairdresser. "I've gotten to know a lot of the drivers, and this way I don't need to ask friends for rides," she says. "I've always been terribly independent and don't like to rely on anyone."
Many private companies are getting into the act as well. SilverRide in San Francisco offers door-to-door rides, but a senior can pay extra for the driver to help or hang around during the appointment.
If you can't find such a service, look for a reliable cab company and build a relationship with a driver. A cab, says ITN founder Katherine Freund, is "not cheap, but it's cheaper than owning a car."
Handing Over the Keys
Matt Gurwell, a retired state trooper who founded Keeping Us Safe (www.keepingussafe.org; 877-907-8841), a driving-assessment program for older drivers, suggests paying someone in the community to drive you to appointments. "Some of my clients have hired a neighbor -- a newly retired guy or a mom with school-age children -- to drive them around," he says.
Not long ago, Gurwell assessed an 82-year-old man from Wheeling, W.Va., whose adult children, including daughter Betsy Babb, were worried about his declining driving skills. They noticed that he was hitting the curb and driving too slowly on the interstate.
Babb, who lives in Cincinnati, asked Gurwell to give her father a driving test, which, she says, her dad "failed miserably." Gurwell suggested to her father that he slowly phase out his driving over six months, by avoiding busy highways and night-time drives, and that he investigate other transportation options.
After first resisting, Babb's father decided to take Gurwell's advice. He's using his retirement community's shuttle for doctor appointments and is asking friends to pick him up for service-club outings. Says Babb's father, who asked that his name not be used: "When you've been driving as long as I have, maybe the time has come to stop."
American Occupational Therapy Association (www.aota.org; 301-652-2682). Has a national database of driving programs and specialists who can evaluate older drivers.
CarFit (www.car-fit.org). Sponsored by AOTA, AARP and AAA, CarFit features scheduled events where specialists adjust a car’s seat height, mirrors and other features to improve safety.
Keeping Us Safe (www.keepingussafe.org). In addition to its assessment program, it sells “Beyond Driving With Dignity” ($28), a workbook for older drivers and families.
National Center on Senior Transportation (www.n4a.org/pdf/Mature_Driver.pdf). Offers a free brochure on older driver safety; the brochure lists other driving-related Web sites.
Haven’t yet filed for Social Security? Create a personalized strategy to maximize your lifetime income from Social Security. Order Kiplinger’s Social Security Solutions today.