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Is it time to legislate when we give up our keys?

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When do you know it’s time to hang up your car keys for good? 

That’s the question many seniors and their families grapple with but Vermont lawmakers want to transfer that question to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  And just judging by the number of comments against the idea, you’d wonder why it came up at all when I imagine Vermont’s legislature has their hands full with budget concerns just like every other state in the nation.

But, I’ll tell you why lawmakers feel the need to do something.  It’s because individuals and their families are not doing something.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had conversations with family members that admit taking Dad’s car keys away would be a good idea.  They’ll even admit that he’ll be lucky if he doesn’t kill someone.  Their words, not mine.  So why, when we live in such a litigious society, would we be willing to close our eyes to the dangers we or our loved ones create every time we get behind the wheel of a car?

Perhaps it’s because we’ve forgotten what they taught us in driver’s classes about a car being a 2,000 pound killing machine.  But I think the reason is very complicated.  If you take away someone’s car keys, you take away their freedom.  Just try to use mass transit in the Seattle or Tacoma areas without a good amount of spare time or point A and point B of your trip being on a bus line and you begin to see obstacles.  When an otherwise healthy person (of any age) cannot get out to visit friends, buy groceries or see a doctor and in essence becomes a prisoner of their own home you’ll end up in a fight.

Our options if we take away or give up car keys are pretty limited.  If we are lucky we can buy homes in neighborhoods that are more accessible or choose to live in senior living facilities that provide transportation.  If we are the adult children of the person giving up the keys we can become Mom’s Taxi.  We have a final option.  It will require more work, more time and yes possibly even more money but that option will make it easier for older people to continue to have the freedom of movement they desire, it will prevent their children from having to provide chauffeur service and more importantly it might save the lives of the people you love.  That option quite simply is to begin advocating for better transportation options, more walkable cities that prioritize pedestrian traffic over vehicle traffic.  We need our communities to be vibrant and resources such as doctors and shopping to be close at hand.  We need to quit holding the car up as our king.  Jeff Speck wrote his book, Walkable City on just such a need .  His focus is not on walkability for the sake of seniors but walkability for the sake of city dwellers.

Until our cities are designed better, here are some suggestions for how to know when it’s time to give up the car keys and some tips on how to make that discussion easier.

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