Caring Currents

Transitioning to Life Without a Car

Last updated:

June 13, 2008
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The father of a friend was despondent when his license was taken away. Cars had always been a major part of his life: He'd owned a series of Cadillacs, and his last car was a Jaguar. He cherished and pampered his cars, washing and waxing them in his free time, or opening up the hood to tinker with the engine. He and his friends would even sit in the car when they got together; it was his refuge from the chaos of the household. Once, in the heat of an argument, his son blurted out, "You love your car more than you love the rest of us!" and my friend's father conceded, without particular shame, that this was true.

My father's friend lost his license at the age of 87 because he couldn't pass the written DMV test. He insisted on taking the test again. And then again. But he failed each time. His family wanted him to keep his Jaguar because they thought this might make the transition easier, but he refused, declaring that it would be too painful to see the car when he knew he would never drive it again.

America's love affair with the automobile has been long and passionate, and it's still going strong, despite mounting gas prices. Cars represent freedom, mobility, power, and speed -- qualities we associate with youth and vitality. Giving up the car keys in turn can mean dependency, and a loss of power and autonomy. "My father felt his freedom had been assaulted when he lost his licence," says my friend. "And when he sold his car, a part of him went with it."

For the elderly, giving up the car means not just inconvenience but social isolation as well. No wonder, then, that researchers have established a link between driving cessation and depression. In addition, a study published the American Journal of Public Health found that nondrivers are four times as likely as drivers to end up in a nursing home. According to the study authors, “the hardships imposed on older adults by not driving are not widely recognized.”

There are many ways you can help your parents make the transition to life without a car:

  • Do what you can to help them figure out alternative transportation options.
  • Help them maintain their social contacts so giving up driving doesn't mean giving up their community.
  • And most of all, keep in touch. This transition will be far easier for your parents if they don't have to make it alone.

Image by Flickr user mgspiller, used under the Creative Commons licencing agreement.