When an older adult decides to stop driving, it is a major life event. But if that person has a spouse who continues to drive, there are consequences for both. While many believe the life of the spouse who still drives will not change that much, new research shows this is not the case — and the effects are different for men and women.
"When husbands stop driving, the wife is less likely to work," says Angela Curl, a professor at the University of Missouri's School of Social Work. Curl, who has done extensive research on how common life events affect an older couple's marriage, says it's unclear why the wife is more likely to stop working even though she can still drive. "It's possible that her continuing to work could create stress in the relationship," she says.
Meanwhile, when the wife stops driving, her husband is less likely to stay engaged socially, even though he can still drive. And both husband and wife are less likely to continue any previous volunteering activities even though only one spouse has stopped driving. "If they're not volunteering together, they're both less likely to go," Curl says.
Families should understand that both spouses will be affected when one stops driving. "It's a lot to expect for one person to take over all transportation for another person," she says. "If you treat it as a family issue where everybody pitches in and helps, it can reduce the burden on any one person."
Despite the consequences that giving up driving may bring, there are seniors who should no longer be on the road. But Curl says some older adults pressured by their children to stop driving may actually be relenting prematurely because they are still capable drivers. One way to show your kids — and yourself — that you are still a safe driver is to take a refresher course where you will get guidance and evaluation from a professional. AARP offers a safe driving course at scores of sites on Long Island. To find a class near you, go to nwsdy.li/aarp-driving or call 877-846-3299. The cost is $29.95 for non-AARP members, $25.95 for members.
"There are older adults who are, on the whole, safe drivers, but there's a lot of adult children pushing them to stop driving," Curl says. "I think there's a tendency to be a little overprotective of our parents."