It’s your health—not your age—that matters most in making the decision to stop driving. But growing evidence suggests a catch-22: While declining health can limit driving abilities, stopping driving may contribute to a worsening of physical and emotional health.
The effects of giving up the car keys
Like studies that have preceded it, an analysis in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in February 2016 suggested that driving cessation, whether voluntary or involuntary, among people 55 and older is associated with a negative impact on their mental and physical well-being.
Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York reported that, when compared with current drivers of similar ages, former drivers were twice as likely to have symptoms of depression.
The researchers also pointed to one of 16 studies they analyzed, which found that former drivers experienced a 51 percent reduction in the size of their social network of friends and relatives. This occurred more often in women than men.
“Not only is driving perceived as essential to personal freedom, independence, and control, but driving cessation also has an impact on physical health by potentially making it more difficult to carry out practical health tasks, like going to a medical appointment or picking up prescriptions,” says David R. Ragland, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the University of California, Berkeley, Safe Transportation Research and Education Center.
“The study shows that stopping driving can contribute to cognitive decline and depressive symptoms, and so finding ways to combat those effects is important,” he adds.
A loss of spontaneity can also come with no longer driving, Ragland says. “Suddenly you have to plan your schedule around that of others. This takes extra planning and a new dependence on other people,…