Most North Americans depend on cars to get us around; driving gives us independence and freedom. The problem is that as we age our motor skills, vision, and response times can deteriorate, making us a danger to ourselves and others. Many families agonize over the decision to take their parents’ car keys away and most are met with resistance. How do you know if your elderly parent is still safe to drive?
Signs of Elderly Driver Decline:
- Drives either too fast or too slow for the road and traffic flow
- Relies on passengers for line of site questions
- Responds too slowly or doesn’t see bicyclists, pedestrians, or other drivers on the road
- Ignores, disobeys or misunderstands traffic lights and street signs
- Stops being able to gauge the distances between or approaching cars
- Doesn’t yield to others that have the right of way
- Seems drowsy, confused, or frightened, or easily angered or frustrated
- Drifts across lanes or bumps into curbs
- Forgets to turn on headlights after dusk
- Seems to be having a lot of near accidents or is having car accidents
- Lacks the strength to turn the wheel quickly in case of emergency
- Gets lost on the road, even in familiar areas
- Has difficulty maneuvering their neck, head, or shoulders while driving or parking
- Experiences night blindness when glare from oncoming headlights or streetlights appears
- Ignores needed mechanical repairs
If you can identify one or more of these issues in your elderly parent, suggest they be assessed by their medical doctor as they may be unfit to drive.
Caregivers Should Look at These Medical Issues:
- Has the elderly person had a physical exam in the last year to test reflexes, vision, and hearing?
- Have they been diagnosed with any medical illness that could affect their ability to drive?
- Has a physician recommended that they stop driving?
- Are they on any medications that could make them drowsy?
- Have they reduced their alcohol intake to compensate for a decreasing tolerance?
- Have they had a serious fall in the last year?
- Do they have difficulty climbing a flight of stairs or walking more than a city block?
Easing into Decreased Driving Ability
Just because your elderly parent is experiencing declines in their abilities doesn’t mean that they have to give up driving all together:
- Stop driving at night
- Only drive in familiar areas
- Avoid highways and rush hour traffic
- Leave plenty of time to get to destination
- Don’t drive alone
The AARP (the American Association of Retired Persons) sponsors a program called the 55-Alive Mature Driver Program, which helps older people deal with issues such as compensating for vision problems associated with aging. And, the Association for Driver Rehabilitation offers referrals to specialists who teach people with disabilities, including aging drivers, how to improve their driving. Some states, including Washington, offer seniors a discount on car insurance in exchange for taking a safe driving course each year.
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