When it’s no longer safe to drive

Do you remember when you first earned your driver’s license?  For most of us it signified much more than being able to operate a vehicle – it gave us a sense of independence and freedom!  It is then understandable that a person would experience loss and even fear or grief at the thought of losing that freedom.  

If you have concerns about your loved one’s driving abilities the first step is to have a respectful conversation with them.  Be aware that this may be a sensitive issue, but also be firm if you have genuine concern.  Safety for themselves and for others must come first. Come to the conversation prepared to offer solutions – alternate transportation options.

Share examples of what you have seen.  “You have had several fender-benders recently”, “I’ve noticed you are breaking suddenly at stop lights”, “You don’t seem to be able to turn your head when changing lanes”.  If other family members or friends have noticed as well, it may be helpful to have the discussion together.

Offer to help them make an assessment of their driving abilities.  There are several steps to ensure safe and defensive driving.

  • Vision – a senior may experience changes in night vision, so they should have their eyes checked frequently. The doctor performing the eye test should be informed that they are testing for driving sight.
  • Hearing – just as important as being able to see clearly is the ability to hear what is happening on the road.
  • Medications – some medications can cause drowsiness and others can cause confusion. Check with the physician to ensure that medications are safe to take when driving.
  • Senior safety course – there are defensive driving courses designed especially for older drivers. Various organizations sponsor them, such as AARP.  Contact the automobile insurance company as they often offer discounts for those seniors who take an approved course.
  • Driving ability – When there is concern about an elderly loved one’s ability to drive you may want to schedule an assessment with a certified driver rehabilitation or occupational specialist who can do a comprehensive evaluation of your loved one’s skills required for driving. This third party evaluation can often help seniors understand their driving abilities and accept their limitations more easily.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, along with AARP and the USAA Education Foundation has published a booklet called Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully that can help older adults assess their driving skills and abilities.  http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/olddrive/driving%20safely%20aging%20web/

What do you do when a driver refuses to give up the keys?

Sometimes no amount of rationalization with an older driver can convince them to stop driving.  This can be a very difficult situation for a family member, but safety must come first for all involved.  Ask yourself this question:  Would you be comfortable with your child, or grandchild riding with this driver alone?  

The Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) in most states will work with family members that are concerned about an older adult’s driving abilities. The DMV, if requested, may simply notify your loved one that they need to schedule an eye exam and safe driving test.  A physician can also write to the DMV that their patient is not safe to drive.  This takes the responsibility off of the family member if the DMV finds that the senior can no longer continue driving.

Safety for loved ones, as well as safety of others sharing the road with them, must be the top priority in this often stressful situation.  Some older drivers may be aware of their declining skills, and be relieved to have someone else make this decision for them.

Author:  Michelle Graham, CSA, Certified Senior Advisor, CIRS-A, CAP, Eldercare Consultant, CEO and Founder of Graham & Graham Eldercare Consultants LLC


Providing Guidance and Care Options for Families