Do You Have Concerns About an Older Driver?
Are you worried about your parent or other older family member or friend driving? Sometimes it can be hard for an older person to realize that he or she is no longer a safe driver. You might want to observe the person’s driving skills. For example, make sure that the driver:
- Follows the rules of the road, including speed limits, traffic lights, and stop signs
- Yields the right-of-way
- Is aware of other vehicles, motorcyclists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and road hazards
- Merges and changes lanes safely and stays in the lane when turning and driving straight
- Can easily move the foot between the gas and the brake pedals, and does not confuse the two
If it’s not possible to observe the older person driving, look out for these signs that he or she is having problems at the wheel:
- Has multiple vehicle crashes, “near misses,” and/or new dents in the car
- Receives two or more traffic tickets or warnings within the last 2 years; increases in car insurance premiums because of driving issues
- Neighbors or friends observe unsafe driving
- Has anxiety about driving at night
- Develops health issues that might affect driving ability, including problems with vision, hearing, and/ or movement
- Complains about the speed, sudden lane changes, or actions of other drivers
- Shares that doctor recommended he or she modify driving habits or quit driving entirely
Having “The Talk” About Driving
Talking with an older person about his or her driving is often difficult. Here are some things that might help when having the talk.
- Be prepared. Observe the older driver for potential problems. Learn about local services to help someone who can no longer drive. Identify the person’s transportation needs before speaking with the person.
- Avoid confrontation. Try having a one-on-one conversation. Use “I” messages rather than “You” messages. For example, say, “I am concerned about your safety when you are driving,” rather than, “You’re no longer a safe driver.”
- Stick to the issue. Discuss the driver’s skills, not his or her age.
- Focus on safety and maintaining independence. Be clear that the goal is for the older driver to continue the activities he or she currently enjoys while staying safe. Offer to help the person stay independent. For example, you might say, “I’ll help you figure out how to get where you want to go if driving isn’t possible.” The reason for understanding what activity the person needs to use transportation for, is to be prepared with answers for getting the person to the needed activity.
- Be positive and supportive. Recognize the importance of a driver’s license to the older person. Understand that he or she may become defensive, angry, hurt, or withdrawn. You might say: “I understand that this may be upsetting,” or “We’ll work together to find a solution.”
Is It Time to Give Up Driving?
One of the most difficult topics to discuss with an aging person is “Is it time to stop driving? Driving is a symbol of independence. Most likely the person has been driving for decades. Giving up that sense of freedom can be one of the most difficult transitions, even when all the evidence points to the need to stop driving. We all age differently. For this reason, there is no way to set one age when everyone should stop driving. So, how do you know if you should stop? To help decide, ask yourself or discuss with the person:
- Do other drivers often honk at me?
- Have I had some accidents, even if they were only “fender benders”?
- Do I get lost, even on roads I know?
- Do cars or people walking seem to appear out of nowhere?
- Do I get distracted while driving?
- Have family, friends, or my doctor said they’re worried about my driving?
- Am I driving less these days because I’m not as sure about my driving as I used to be?
- Do I have trouble staying in my lane?
- Do I have trouble moving my foot between the gas and the brake pedals, or do I sometimes confuse the two?
- Have I been pulled over by a police officer about my driving?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it may be time to talk with your doctor about driving or have a driving assessment.
Key Point To Remember
Talk to other professionals that may have experience with these topics. Many adult retirement communities have such expert staff that has addressed such issues. Reach out for assistance. The important thing to always keep in mind is no matter how difficult the conversation may be, protecting the life of the individual and the lives of others, is the main priority. Many older people do adjust to this transition and with proper planning this situation can be resolved without ongoing stress.