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Time to retire from driving? Considerations and steps

Driving is a symbol of freedom and independence. You can go where you want when you want. And Canada is one of the most car-dependent countries in the world, so it’s no surprise that driving is the top transit choice for many of us. But, despite our attachments to automobiles, there may come a time when it’s wiser to give up driving.

Thinking about giving up driving in advance could save you from added stress should the time come for you. In fact, by taking a staged approach, you could retire from driving willingly on your terms. We’ve put together some considerations you may wish to reflect on. 

5 things to think about when considering whether you should stop driving

Retiring from driving could save you money

Driving and maintaining a vehicle adds up. Costs depend on the car you drive and how often you drive. CAA offers a driving costs calculator to help you estimate the annual cost of having your car. We plugged in a 2018 Honda Civic EX 2D Coupe driving 20,000 km in Ontario, and the cost was close to $10,000 a year.

Savings from not having a car could be directed into paying for alternatives, like public transportation, taxis or rideshare options like Uber. Of course, the cost and availability of these options depend on where you live.

Suggestion: Use the CAA tool to figure out your annual car costs. Then, investigate the options available in your municipality. How much is public transit? Are there special rates for older adults, even at certain times of the day? What does the taxi or Uber cost to some of your favourite spots? Estimate a monthly cost to determine what you would save by switching.

Less driving is better for the environment

Driving less is one tangible action individuals can take to reduce air pollution. There are about 18 million cars on the road in Canada, and most still rely on gasoline. A passenger car produces about 5 to 9 tons of greenhouse gases per year. The emissions from your vehicle make up approximately half of the carbon dioxide coming from your household, so it’s easy to see that changing your driving could make a big impact.

As demand increases for alternatives to personal cars, then transit options will grow and evolve—you can be part of the change.

Health conditions can impact your ability to drive safely

Driving uses visual, cognitive, physical and spatial skills. Your driving ability may be affected if you have a health condition that impairs any of these skills. You can ask your medical team for an assessment. As well, healthcare professionals are required in some cases to report high-risk medical conditions. Here are some examples of health situations that can impact driving:

  • Vision conditions, like glaucoma, cataracts or muscular degeneration, can impact driving. Some conditions can be slowed or reversed with treatment. Also, your eyes may be more sensitive to light as you age, affecting driving. Wearing sunglasses is important. 
  • Hearing loss can impact your ability to hear horns, emergency vehicles or other driving-related sounds. Having your hearing checked and using hearing aids can help.
  • Osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and other conditions impacting flexibility, movement and strength can affect driving skills like braking or turning your neck for blind spot checks. Your reaction time may also be affected. If mobility is a factor for you, you may consider consulting an occupational therapist for guidance.
  • Some medications have side effects like blurred vision, tremors and drowsiness. Your doctor or pharmacist can give guidance on whether medications you’re taking could impact driving.

You can take a driving refresher course

Many driving schools offer refresher courses. It may be worth looking into classes if you’re anxious about driving or want to build skills in certain areas, like winter driving.

Driving supports social connection, which is a priority for healthy aging

Driving supports social connection because you can quickly get to friends and activities. When you no longer drive, you’ll need to develop a new plan or routine to do some of the activities you enjoy and prevent social isolation. It’s not inevitable that you’ll become isolated—you can take action to ensure you don’t. Plus, taking public transit is a new opportunity to meet people.

How to prepare to stop driving

Ideally, you’ll have the opportunity to prepare to stop driving on your terms. You can scale back your driving and build your comfort with alternatives to driving. Here are some tips to help:

Talk to family or friends about your plan to stop driving

Having people to turn to while you work through your plan can be helpful. Family or friends may also be willing to support your transition by assisting you—for example, offering to drive you to appointments or a regular activity.

Make a list of alternatives to driving

Investigate the options that exist in your community. Talk to friends you know who don’t drive to see what they do. Reach out to programs for older adults to ask if they know of services you’re not aware of. Here are some options:

  • Public transit – be sure to look into programs or savings based on age
  • Taxis or ride-share programs like Uber
  • Other private driving services
  • Community shuttles to grocery stores or other popular spots
  • Keeping your vehicle and have someone else drive it for you (be sure to check with your insurance company about this option and recognize you won’t benefit from the same cost savings with this option)

Consider whether living closer to transit might be helpful

More urban settings tend to have better transit options. You may also have the opportunity to live in a location where you can walk to programs and services. Of course, leaving your existing community isn’t necessarily ideal because it can also mean leaving social connections. If you’re already considering your housing as part of your healthy aging goals, then it’s worth evaluating transit and walkability as part of that decision.

Gradually change your driving habits

There’s no reason to stop driving suddenly unless something causes that situation. Instead, start trying out alternatives to driving. Try out your transit system. Consider inviting a friend along or go with a family member. Try taking an Uber or other rideshare.  You’ll become more comfortable the more you do it, and you may even find you like it better!

Set up an account for your transit costs

You might consider opening a separate bank account for your transit fund. Once you no longer have a car, you could divert some of the car costs to this bank account. You can use it to pay for taxis or rideshares or to cover your transit pass.

Get involved with advocacy at the local level to improve alternatives to driving

Many municipalities have people or committees working on the concept of an age-friendly community. Having transit options and ensuring streets are safe for walking are important for making communities work for people of all ages. If you think improvements are needed in your community, look for groups already working on the issue that you can join. Well-lit streets, bus shelters that protect from weather, handrails, well-maintained sidewalks, access to washrooms, and extended walking times at street lights are small but important ways to help people get around more safely and easily.

Coping with a sudden end to driving

You may have to stop driving suddenly because of a medical situation like a stroke or seizure. Here are some points that may be helpful if you’re facing that situation, or supporting someone who is:

  • Recognize it’s normal to experience grief with losing the ability to drive—it’s a big change. Grief can happen when the future we imagined is no longer possible. You may grieve the loss of independence or the joy you got from driving. It’ll take time to work through those feelings. Know that it’s possible to move forward and continue to enjoy life.
  • Be gentle with yourself, or your loved one if you’re supporting someone who has lost their ability to drive. Recognize that there will be a range of feelings as you cope with this circumstance. Even as you start to move forward, you may experience sadness or anger at different points in your day.
  • If a medical situation has caused the loss of a license, there may be a support group you can join to help you through this challenging time. You can ask your medical team if they know of one. Support groups can help you see that you’re not alone in your experience.

There’s a stigma attached to retiring from driving. You might see it as a sign of weakness. And certainly, it can affect your sense of self. But we can normalize retiring from driving. We know our reliance on cars as a society is problematic from a climate change perspective, and as more people choose alternatives, transit systems will need to improve. As you consider giving up driving, you may have the opportunity to reframe the situation as a choice—and you can lead by example to help others make the change too.


McMaster Optimal Aging Portal – Changing Gears: Making a Plan for Retiring from Driving lesson