When it comes to our family & loved ones their safety is our primary concern. It’s normal for parents driving abilities to change as they age. By reducing risk factors and incorporating safe driving practices, many can continue driving safely long into their senior years. But we do have to pay attention to warning signs that old age is interfering with driving safety and make appropriate adjustments. At some point it will probably be necessary to seek alternative methods of transportation.
How Does Age Affect Driving?
Everyone ages differently, so there is no arbitrary cutoff as to when someone should stop driving. However, older adults are more likely to receive traffic citations and get into accidents than younger drivers (except teenagers). In fact, fatal crash rates rise sharply after a driver has reached the age of 70. Some of the signs that a change needs to be made in a senior’s driving privilege are:
- Reduction of strength, coordination and flexibility
- Problems with reflexes and range of motion
- Difficulty in dividing attention between multiple activities
- Hearing loss
- Vision loss
- Medications that effect driving ability
- Sleep problems
- Problems with memory
- Trouble with the nuts and bolts of driving
- Close calls and increased citations
Aging does not automatically equal total loss of driving ability. There are many things that can be done for seniors to continue driving safely, including modification of their car, the way they drive, and understanding and rectifying physical issues that may interfere with driving. There are things that can be done to extend the time a senior will be able to drive, such as:
- Find The Right Car
Choose a vehicle with automatic transmission, power steering, and power brakes. Keep the car in good working condition with scheduled maintenance. Be sure that windows and headlights are always clean.
- Drive Defensively
With cell phones, GPS devices, and digital music players, drivers are even more distracted than they used to be. This means taking extra steps to drive safely, like leaving adequate space between cars, paying extra attention at intersections, and driving appropriate to the flow of traffic. Avoid distractions.
Make sure sufficient braking distance is allowed. If speeds is doubled—say from 30 mph to 60 mph—the braking becomes four times as far, even more if the road is wet or icy.
- Brush Up On Driving Through a Refresher Course
Safety courses for seniors are offered in many communities and online.
- Many Older Drivers Voluntarily Make Changes
For instance, they may decide to drive only during daylight hours, staying off freeways, highways, and find street routes instead, avoiding driving in bad weather. If going to a place that is unfamiliar, it is a good idea to plan the route before leaving so the driver feels more confident and avoids getting lost.
- Talk to Your Parents’ Doctor
The doctor should be able to provide an opinion about the senior’s ability to drive safely, or refer you to a specialist for more intensive evaluation.
- Discuss Driving Limitations with Your Parents
If you are concerned about your parents driving, it is time to have an honest and frank discussion regarding their driving ability. Driver safety can often be a sensitive issue for older drivers. A driver’s license is a symbol of freedom and self-sufficiency. Understandably, driving is not a privilege that anyone wants to relinquish willingly. Still, safety must come first.
Some older drivers may be aware of their faltering ability but still be reluctant to give up driving completely. Another person’s concerns may force the senior driver to act. They may even feel relieved to have someone else help make the decision to stop driving.
For many seniors, driving is an integral part of independence. At the same time, don’t be intimidated or back down if you have a true concern. If you find yourself in the position of talking to a family member about their loss of the ability to continue driving, remember to:
- Be respectful
- Give specific examples of driving problems
- Find strength in numbers, involve other family members
- Help find alternatives, such as types of convenient public transportation
- Understand the difficulty of the transition
Sometimes an older driver has to be stopped from driving over their objections. It might feel very difficult for you to make this call, especially if the senior is a parent used to having their independence. However, their safety and the safety of others must come first. An unsafe driver can seriously injure or kill themselves or others.If appropriate evaluations and recommendations have been made, and no amount of rational discussion has convinced the driver to hand over the car keys, then you may make an anonymous report to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. In some cases, there is a need to take further actions such as taking away the car keys, selling or disabling the car, and enlisting the local police to explain the legal implications of unsafe driving.