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Study: Life After Driving


Pre-planning is the key to mitigating post-car blues, according to a new study.

U.K. researchers followed 21 older people over a period of 10 months as they gave up driving. The participants, aged 69 to 86 years of age, came from urban, semi-urban and rural locations in England and Wales. Each participant took part in three interviews and a focus group, and each completed a diary of travel behaviour.

The individuals who planned to give up driving far in advance were able to maintain their quality of life post-car. The researchers emphasized self-determination – making the decision about when to cease driving – is also critical.

Charles Musselwhite and Ian Shergold reported their findings in the European Journal of Ageing (Vol.10, No. 2, 2013).

Deciding to quit

For some, the decision to give up the car stemmed from a health issue. "When I had a stroke that got me thinking," one woman said. "What if I had a stroke at the wheel?"

"I got down the town and couldn’t park," another participant explained. "I tried it again and again . . . and I thought that’s it. That’s enough. I can’t do this anymore."

A media report pushed one 75-year-old woman to think about quitting:

I saw a documentary and then there was a radio phone-in. It took me a while, then I thought, cor, this is actually about me, now. I suddenly realized I was old and needed to be more careful. It was that that started me thinking.

Finally, an 88-year-old man said: "I asked my son one day and he said, ‘Look Dad, you are getting a bit dangerous, yes’. I started planning to retire from driving then."

Creative options

After hanging up their car keys for good, 15 of 21 participants reported no change in their quality of life.

How did they do it?

Simply put, successful participants found alternative ways to continue their current commitments and engagements as best they could.

"So, the first thing I did was check how I can carry on getting to my yoga class," one woman explained. "That was even before I started looking for something that’d get me to the shops."

Another woman, concerned about using the bus, tested it out: "Yes, it’s trial and error," she said. "I went once and it was full of kids. So I tried a later one."

Sometimes the trial runs were discouraging, prompting people to hang on to their cars for a while longer.

"It’d be the end of me going to my singing," explained one 70-year-old woman. "I just can’t get there on the bus. It doesn’t go anywhere near the village hall, you see."

Family and friends offered lifts. In this case, the older adults wanted to give something back. One participant said: "So my daughter takes me to the hospital and on the way back we always stop for a meal or for chips and I pay. It’s my treat. And it’s a way of saying thank you. . ."

Some participants settled for trade-offs:

"I don’t go into the city anymore anyway for shopping," one woman remarked. "I do it all locally. Less hassle, less bustle."

Others, like this 80-year-old man, discovered fewer reasons to travel:

You begin to notice things more close, well in your home. I think it happens with having more time and being around the home more. So I’m in the garden more. I know it’s a clich√©! But since retiring I love my gardening. I don’t see the need to travel. . .

Notably, it took successful participants from one to five years to wean themselves off driving, according to the study.

Life without wheels

On the downside, six male participants reported a dramatic decline in their quality of life.

Here is how one 81-year-participant summed it up: "I suppose that’s it now. A general sense of life being over . . . I mean what have I to look forward to, really. It does get me down. Everything I enjoyed is not possible to do anymore."

All the men had been compelled to give up driving by their doctor or their insurance company because of serious health concerns. Two participants had keys taken away by a family member.

The participants were all heavy car users, and none had given serious thought to life beyond the car.

"I suppose that it’s something I never really contemplated. I thought I’d always drive," one man remarked. "I couldn’t, and maybe I still can’t, imagine life well having a life without the car."

Gender differences

The early findings suggest males are more likely to have to be told to give up driving.

Older women view their car in practical terms. They see it as a way to get the groceries and engage in community activities. This practical view may explain why they are more willing to look for alternative means of transport earlier in life in order to keep their tasks and roles going.

Men discussed their cars more in affective terms. The researchers say the car extends masculinity and normalcy for men well into later life, making it harder for males to give up driving.