If you’re concerned about your loved one getting behind the wheel, the best thing to do is start the conversation early. It’s never going to be an easy one to have, but at least you’ll have a plan of attack when it comes time to give up the keys.

For some, the transition to getting off the road is a slow one where you may need to encourage the change, but for others it can be a moment of recognition they have for themselves.

Elsie Frindt, 84, was always careful when parking at her local shopping centre, but after hitting a pole trying to park one day, she started to question whether she should still be driving.

“There were no cars and no people and the park was completely empty, but there was a pole about half a metre high and my car decided that it liked it,” Elsie jokes. “I started thinking that it might be time to stop driving and by the time my car had been repaired, I decided it was time.”

While it can be hard to admit, especially for those who have spent many years behind the wheel, older drivers are more at risk on the roads if they have vision and hearing impairments, and reduced muscle strength and slow reaction times are also big risk factors.

Is it time to hand back the keys?

This simple checklist will help frame the conversation with a loved one who may need to consider getting out from behind the wheel.

If you find you’re checking ‘yes’ to more than a handful of these questions, then it’s best to consider taking time off the road.

  1. Do you have a medical condition or take medication that could impair your driving?
  2. Do you have difficulty reacting quickly to other drivers’ actions?
  3. Do you drive too fast or too slow?
  4. Do you rely on your passengers to help you gauge when it’s clear to pass or turn?
  5. Do you get flustered or angry when driving?
  6. Can you turn your head, neck and shoulders easily when head-checking or parking?
  7. Do bright lights or sunshine affect your vision?
  8. Have you had one or more accidents recently?
  9. Do you feel exhausted after driving for an hour?
  10. Have you been warned by passengers about road hazards you didn’t notice?
  11. Do you feel uncomfortable in heavy traffic?

How to get used to not driving

If it becomes apparent that your loved one is safer off the road, there’s no denying it could be a difficult transition. It’s something that can be missed because of the independence it brings, but with time it gets easier because your loved one will settle into a new routine.

  • Consider your location -Are you or your loved one living somewhere that has easy access to public transport? If not, would it be better for them to be settled somewhere with closer access to a train, bus or tram?
  • Would a retirement village be better? - If your loved one is no longer behind the wheel, but also dealing with other ailments or mobility issues, it could be time to consider a retirement village. As well as access to other services within the community, there’ll likely be transport options to help get to and from doctor appointments and other social activities.
  • Access community transport services - So often, the responsibility can fall on the child or loved one of someone who has lost their licence to help with transport. As a carer, if you’re not able to do so, consider using the community transport services that are available (see next page for more information). Keep the social calendar filled - One of the reasons losing a driver’s licence is so difficult is because your loved one might then feel isolated from the outside world. Making sure they’ve got social commitments locked in throughout the week, from a regular book club meeting to lunch date, means they’ll still have plenty of excuses to get out of the house.
  • Get online where possible - With online shopping so readily available, this is one way to make sure your loved one is still getting the basics they need without needing to get in a car.
  • Plan ahead - If you have become the primary caregiver for a loved one, or you’re the one who will take on the responsibility of driving them to and from appointments and other commitments, try and plan ahead as much as possible so it feels the least disruptive to everyone.

Community transport services

If you or your loved one are in a position where you feel it would be best to hand in your licence and reduce your driving, these organisations can provide ongoing assistance.

  • Community organisations -Throughout Australia, there is a wide range of not-for-profit, charity, religious, cultural and community groups providing free or low-cost transport assistance for older people. As well as local organisations providing services – such as churches and rotary – St John Community Transport Service operates on a national level.
  • Local councils - Local councils frequently offer transport in two forms:
    • Community buses: these buses usually operate on a weekly basis with many offering the convenience of door-to-door pick-up and drop-off. As well as taking residents to shopping centres, many council-run community buses visit other services and activities, such as libraries and seniors’ clubs and groups. There is usually a nominal charge for using the service, which may vary depending on where it is going.
    • Personal transport: some councils offer personal transport for medical, wellbeing and other essential appointments. Once again, there is usually a small charge for the service, and fees may vary depending on the distance you’re travelling and whether you require a return journey.
  • State and territory governments -Many states have their own initiatives, like New South Wales’ Community Transport Program and the Queensland Government’s Community Transport Scheme. If you choose to use a service like this, you may have to pay a small contribution. Free or reduced public transport The Australian Government Pensioner Concession Card will give you access to cheaper public transport rates in all states and territories. Some states and territories even offer pensioners free travel at certain times. Taxi subsidy schemes Many state and territory governments operate a taxi subsidy scheme to help with getting to appointments, socialising and shopping trips, but how much they contribute to the taxi cost will vary depending on which state or territory you’re living in.

Can funding be used?

For those eligible for a Home Care Package, funding can be used to assist with transport and community access for things like shopping, visiting health practitioners and attending social activities.

Are you a carer?

If you’re the partner or child of a loved one and acting as their primary caregiver, you may qualify for subsidised travel through the Carer Allowance. Visit carergateway.gov.au for more information on subsidised travel.

Tips for older drivers

Keeping an eye on a loved one still behind the wheel? These are great tips you can offer so they safely prolong their driving abilities.

Keep fit - For older drivers, it’s really important to stay physically and mentally active to have the reflexes to respond to the changes in traffic conditions.
Ask family and friends for feedback - Family and friends will always be able to tell your loved one honestly if their skills aren’t up to scratch.
Drive when feeling confident - If an older diver feels unsafe at any time, such as during peak hour traffic, in wet weather or at night, then it’s a good idea to avoid driving at those times.
Look for safety features in a new car - Consider features such as night vision enhancement, intersection navigation assistance, automated lane changing assistance, collision warning and intelligent cruise control.

What to expect if you hand in your keys

Judith Arnold, Customer Value Specialist at Apia, explains the value of proactively deciding to reduce or completely stop driving, in turn enjoying the cost savings when you no longer have to worry about registration, insurance or maintenance costs.

“Most customers that I’ve encountered who have cancelled have proactively decided to not get behind the wheel. The main reason is that they no longer have the confidence that they once had, preferring to make the decision themselves instead of having the decision made for them,” says Judith.

The decision to stop driving

Judith describes the process of cancelling an insurance policy for one of her customers, who – like many – didn’t feel that they had lost their independence.

“I had a customer who had independently made the decision as she was no longer confident on the road,” says Judith. “She felt happy about her decision. We also discussed it from a financial point of view, as she was a single pensioner and stopping driving meant she no longer had to pay for registration, insurance or petrol. This customer also the car to her daughter, so that if she did need to get somewhere her daughter was able to take her.”

The importance of quality conversations.

Whether talking to your loved ones or talking with your insurance provider, having the conversation about your driving capabilities as early as possible is the key to helping you feel in control.

Top tips from Judith

  • Add a nominated representative to your policy so a loved one can talk on your behalf at a time that you may not be able to.
  • Before a crisis hits, enlist the help of an aged care provider if they will be needed. That way, they’re informed of the situation as early as possible.

What to remember

Although getting off the road is a change that could take some getting used to, planning ahead allows you to prepare for the positives, rather than get caught up in the negatives.

The earlier you start the conversation and use the points here to guide you, the more support you’re able to provide your loved one during the transition. That way, they’ll feel ready and raring to tackle this new stage in their life – and it’s one that doesn’t involve the cost of petrol and a car rego! For more information, call the Five Good Friends and Apia Care Advice line on 1300 50 27 42.