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Should I Keep Driving?

How to assess your driving skills and why it is important to find other forms of transportation

Article written by Karl Robb.

Many people newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease continue to drive, but their driving ability may be affected by certain symptoms such as tremor, shaking, stooped posture or an inability to process information very quickly. No matter how much you love your car and the freedom it brings, at some point you may have to limit your driving or stop altogether.

Karl Robb explains when it is time to give up the keys

I used to love my car — a copper Acura Integra — and the freedom that came along with driving it. Over the years, I got my fair share of speeding tickets, and still today there are times I wish I could go for a spin.

Most of us perceive driving as a right and not a privilege. We see driving as an extension of our personality, our freedom, our access to the world. But if we see driving as much more than an act of getting from here to there, we set ourselves up for a letdown.

When I was 30, dyskinesia was becoming a major nuisance in my life and a danger to my driving. My hands, at times, would find themselves fighting one another for control of the steering wheel. The last thing I wanted was to hurt myself, someone close to me, or an innocent bystander. I realized then that I was going to have to make a change. I had to face my limitations and make some tough decisions. I had to stop driving my car. 

When to think about letting someone else drive

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Have you had an accident in the past year?
  • Are there any new dents or dings in your car?
  • Do you feel confident behind the wheel?
  • Would you feel prepared to take an off-road driving test?
  • Are your reflexes fast in case of a short stop or needed swerve?
  • Would you be willing to be evaluated by a driving test center?

Giving up the keys

Giving up the keys to your car will require some sacrifice, discipline and creativity. You will need to find alternative forms of transportation: a bus, train, cab service or ride share program in your area. Ride sharing with neighbors could be very helpful for errands and short trips. Just getting to know what programs that are available in your area is the first step in finding the transportation you seek. Remember, relinquishing the keys to your car will test your resourcefulness, patience and creativity. No doubt you will feel a sense of frustration and loss in the beginning, but what you are doing is for the right reasons, at the right time.

Look for the silver lining

I know people in the Parkinson's community who moved to a city where a car was not needed. Relying on buses and trains may take more of your time and patience but it is an option worth considering. You might also think about what you have to gain: you can say goodbye to high gas prices, car insurance, maintenance fees and the stress of traffic delays, parking and road rage. Consider the impact driving has on your finances and mental health, and think of all you will save.

You are not giving up

Giving up your driver's license does not mean giving up! Foregoing the use of your automobile may save your life or the life of someone you love. You can still ride a bike or a three-wheeler, walk, or even use a Segway. Be sure to contact local support groups to see if any ride programs are available in your area. Talk with local government agencies, hospitals, doctor’s offices, and social agencies or agencies on aging. You may want to collaborate with others in the same situation to create a car-pooling and ride share program of your own.

A selfless act

Driving can be a sensitive issue, but it does not have to be. Relinquishing the keys to your car is a selfless act of caring and compassion. It shows that you care about yourself and those who may be put in harm’s way. I hope you take some of these points to heart because it could change your life.

For more information on driving safety and driving assessments for people with Parkinson's, listen to the podcast episode "Keys to Driving with Parkinson's."