Driving can be a sensitive subject for seniors and their adult children. Because driving is linked to independence, most of us are reluctant to give it up.
However, aging brings some undeniable physical changes that can make driving more challenging. Because everyone ages differently, age alone can’t be the determining factor in when it is time for an older adult to give up their keys.
The challenges older drivers face range from diminished flexibility to slower reaction time. Research shows that fatal accidents among seniors begin to climb at age 75 and rise sharply at age 80.
If you are concerned about an older loved one’s driving, it might help to first evaluate their skills before you begin any discussion about hanging up the keys.
How to Evaluate a Senior’s Fitness for Driving
- Inspect their vehicle: One of the easiest and quickest ways to evaluate a senior’s driving safety is to inspect their vehicle. Is it in relatively good shape? Or are the bumpers, side mirrors, and doors banged up? These types of scrapes and dents sometimes indicate an older driver is hitting things like curbs, the garage door, and maybe even other cars.
- Be the passenger: Another option for assessing an older loved one’s safety behind the wheel of a car is to ride along with them a few times. Make sure one of your trips is after dark and another is during peak traffic time. Do they seem nervous and unsure? Are they too confident? Are they able to turn their head and look over their shoulder to change lanes or merge onto the freeway? Are they adhering to the rules of the road and speed limits? (Driving too slowly is almost as dangerous as driving too fast.) Try to make mental notes of any problems you spot so you can write them down to share later if you need to.
- Evaluation tool: The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety created an older driver self-evaluation tool you might find helpful. It is designed for adults over the age of 65. In addition to testing the senior’s safety and fitness for driving, it also offers suggestions for older drivers to improve their skills.
If you objectively evaluate your loved one’s driving and decide they are no longer safe behind the wheel, consider the best way to discuss the situation. Don’t just demand that they hand over their keys. Have a solid plan in place for the conversation, along with options for transportation.
Talking with a Senior About Giving Up Driving
Here are a few tips to help you discuss giving up the keys with an older driver:
- How they feel: Begin the conversation by asking how the senior feels about driving. Are they still comfortable and confident behind the wheel? It might surprise you to learn they aren’t, but feel they have no other choice than to keep driving. Seniors are often reluctant to admit this because they don’t want to burden family, friends, and neighbors with requests for transportation.
- Medication side effects: You can also talk about whether any of the medications the senior takes can impair driving. According to AAA, while more than 75 percent of senior drivers take one or more medications each day, fewer than 33 percent are aware of the potential side effects.
- Transportation options: Take time to create a list of transportation options before you talk with the senior about giving up driving. Once they see that they have options that allow them to maintain their independence, they may be more agreeable to hanging up their keys. If you aren’t sure what transportation is available near your loved one, call the area agency on aging. Most agencies maintain a list of reliable, affordable transportation programs for seniors.
- Share specific concerns: If your loved one insists they are still a good driver, you might need to communicate why you disagree with their self-assessment. In a kind and nonjudgmental manner, share the specific concerns you have about your loved one’s driving. Maybe it was how you witnessed their vehicle drifting left of center when you rode along with them, or the scrapes and scratches you found on their car.
If you’d like to continue learning more about this topic, we encourage you to visit the Seniors & Driving page on our website.
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