According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 500 older Americans are injured every day in crashes. So it's important to keep a close eye on aging loved ones' driving abilities and habits.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued warning signs for family members to look for. Most families are not even aware that they need to be looking for these signs until maybe a family member actually gets in the car with their loved one at the wheel! It can be a sensitive subject, so if you can't be "there", ask a friend or neighbor to keep an eye out for you.
The warning signs to look for, indicating that an elderly driver may no longer be safe behind the wheel are:
- Drifting into other lanes
- Straddling lanes
- Making sudden lane changes
- Ignoring or missing stop signs and traffic signals
- Increased confusion while driving in traffic
- Braking or stopping abruptly without cause
- Accelerating suddenly without reason
- Coasting to a near stop amid moving traffic
- Pressing simultaneously on the brake and accelerator pedals while driving
- Difficulty seeing pedestrians, objects and other vehicles
- Increasing levels of anxiety while driving
- Driving significantly slower than the posted speed or general speed of other vehicles
- Backing up after missing an exit or turn
- Difficulty reacting quickly and/or processing multiple stimuli
- Problems with back/neck flexibility and turning to see traffic/hazards around the car
- Getting lost or disoriented easily, even in familiar places
- Failing to use turn signals or keeping signals on without changing lanes
- Increased "close calls" and "near misses"
- Receipt of two or more traffic citations or warnings in the past two years
- Dents and scrapes on their car or on surrounding objects where they drive and park at home, such as fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs
There is no universal cut-off age when seniors should stop driving, but if you begin observing the warning signs - it's time to address the situation. Don't wait for an accident to happen.
But it's also important to be understanding of your loved one's feelings. Losing the ability to drive is a major event that represents a loss of independence and self-sufficiency! Imagine how it would feel to have to ask for a ride to go anywhere and being at the mercy of other people’s schedules. After a lifetime of independence, that’s pretty hard to swallow. Rather than just taking away car keys, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggests a driving test to evaluate the ability to operate a car safely and responsibly. (Available at the local DMV office) If your loved one fails the test, then it is out of your hands, and it is time for them to forfeit their driving privileges.
Keep in mind, if you ask seniors to give up their keys, they’ll still need to get around. Continuing to participate in the community is an important part of preventing the negative health effects of social isolation. You’ll need to find convenient (and safe) transportation services, arrange for regular rides, or become a part-time chauffeur.
Before you have a conversation about giving up driving, think of a few different ways you could approach the subject. It’s going to backfire if you try to give an order or ultimatum. Because it’s such an emotional subject, straightforward logic won’t always work either.
Here are a few suggestions from USA Today that might be helpful.
- Make it about saving money
Your parents are probably careful about money. Doing a rough cost comparison between owning and maintaining a car versus hiring cabs or occasional drivers might help convince them.
- They could help someone in the family
If someone in the family needs a car, your senior might be willing to give their car to that person. This way, they’re not being forced to give up driving, they’re (for example) helping their daughter whose car is on the verge of breaking down.
- Get a professional opinion
Some seniors trust a professional’s opinion more than their children’s. Involving your parent’s doctor in the discussion may help convince them that your concerns are legitimate.
You may also, report an unsafe driver (if your loved one refuses to participate in an assessment or stop driving). Call your local DMV to report them. You will need their name as shown on their driver's license, their birth date, their driver's license number (if known), their current address, and an explanation of what you observed that led you to believe they are unsafe to drive. You will be required to give your name but you can request that your name be kept confidential. Which will again, take matters out of your hands.
Keep your loved one - and other drivers and pedestrians - safe. Watch for the warning signs and know what to do. The bottom line is, if you wouldn't want someone you love to ride with your senior, then it's time to do something.