Alternatives to driving
Adapted from the New York State Office for the Aging website
When you decide to stop driving, it is an important step in your life, but the decision does not need to limit an active life.
Your need to travel continues. The need remains for you to go to medical appointments and to shop. You may also wish to continue your personal and social activities. All of these are important to your well-being.
You can make it easier if you plan ahead and take the time to learn about your transportation options. Begin to plan long before you stop driving. Transportation services are available to and from many places of worship, senior centers, and retirement communities. If you do volunteer work, a ride may be available. Day trips may be offered to different attractions in your area that can be fun and that allows you to meet new friends.
Do not allow the need to find transportation to keep you from going places. A combination of many transportation methods can work for you. You are very lucky if you have a friend or member of your family who can drive you. If not, check with your county to see if the county has transportation services. You can also check with the local senior services agency for assistance.
If a non-driver cannot use public transportation, there may be senior transportation programs that help with rides for necessary trips. For example, transportation may be available for medical appointments, to shop, or for other required activities.
Local transit systems often have special services for older riders to help them get where they need to go. These services can include:
- fare discounts
- vehicles with low steps to make it easier to get in and out
- training sessions on how to safely use the transit system
The transportation services that are available depend on programs in your community. There are "fixed route" services, like a standard bus route with scheduled stops. There are also "on-demand" services in some communities that are like a door-to-door taxi service. The transportation services can come from government agencies, transit systems, and local community organizations like churches and human service organizations.
Transportation services discounts for seniors can include lower fares, taxi vouchers, or mileage payments to volunteers or program participants.
To get information about the local services, contact the government agency in your area that provides services and assistance to senior citizens. Also, contact the transit system and join the local senior citizen's group.
In New York City, the New York City Department of Transportation website has information about the different transportation methods and providers in NYC.
You can find a list of county services agencies for older persons at the website of the New York State Office for the Aging.
If you walk
Older walkers find the same dangers as younger pedestrians, but an older person often has less physical agility to avoid the dangers. Walking is a good and healthy physical activity that older persons can do easily. Safe sidewalks that are easy to access allow seniors an important way to stay healthy and connected to the community.
The Partnership for a Walkable America seeks to make roads easy to access and safe for pedestrians. The Partnership is a group of private, state, and federal organizations joined together to raise public awareness about these issues. The Partnership also tries to increase awareness of the health and social benefits of walking.
The Partnership is especially concerned about older pedestrians. Senior walkers are more physically fragile than younger pedestrians. Because of this, the older group has a higher risk of a serious injury or death if struck by a motor vehicle. An older person who experiences exactly the same impact as a younger person will often suffer greater injuries.
Studies find that pedestrians age 65 and older have a much higher risk of death when they are struck by a motor vehicle. The risk is as much as eight times greater than the risk for a younger person.
In addition to the greater risks, older pedestrians have several physical disadvantages that make it harder for them to prevent being struck. Older walkers often have a higher risk because their:
- eyesight is not as good as when they were younger
- the reaction time may be slower
- vision and instability problems can cause older pedestrians to look at the sidewalk or road when they walk. They may not look at traffic
- hearing is not as good; they can have problems hearing vehicles, especially in low-speed areas like parking lots
Special danger zone: any intersection
Older persons have many more pedestrian collisions at intersections than younger persons. Intersections are busy and problems with vision, hearing, and movement cause greater risks than in other locations.
Pedestrians need to look left, then look right and then look left again before they step off the curb. It is important to look left last because it is the direction from which the cars nearest to you will come.
When they cross intersections, older walkers need to make sure that they:
- check for traffic (left, right, left) even when in a marked crosswalk or when the light is green. A driver can pass a red light or fail to see pedestrians
- make eye contact with drivers (if you are not sure that a driver sees you, then wait and allow the vehicle to pass before you cross)
- watch for drivers who make turns. Drivers normally notice traffic first and fail to notice pedestrians. Especially be careful of drivers who make right turns at red traffic lights
Special danger zone: behind a vehicle
Drivers who back up are a great danger to pedestrians. Parking lots and streets that have parallel parking can be special problem locations.
In parking lots, a senior may not notice that the driver of a parked car is going to back up. Back-up lights are only visible if you are looking in their direction. It can also be hard to hear a vehicle that travels so slowly.
On streets with parallel parking, older pedestrians can step between two parked cars when they prepare to cross the street and not notice a parked car that backs up.
When you walk near parked cars, do not assume that you will be given the right-of-way. You also must be careful to:
- look for back-up lights on motor vehicles and listen for engine noise
- use walkways whenever possible, especially in parking lots
- walk in front of parked cars, not behind them, whenever possible
Special danger zone: New York in the winter
The winter is a time of high risks of injury and fatality for older pedestrians.
Research shows that seniors are involved in more pedestrian crashes during the months of November, December, and January than other age groups.
Warmer winter clothes are normally darker in color and less visible than warm weather clothes. Combined with the normally slower movement of older pedestrians, less visible clothing can make it more difficult for motorists to see older walkers.
To help prevent being involved in a crash in winter, senior pedestrians can:
- use greater caution at intersections
- wear clothes with lighter and brighter colors in the day and with reflective material at night
- try to make eye contact with drivers and allow vehicles to go by if there is any risk the driver does not see the pedestrian