For many seniors, driving represents independence and self-sufficiency, affecting how they live, who they see, and what interests and activities they can pursue. But no matter how healthy you are, aging inevitably affects physical and neurological mobility that can impair driving skills and pose safety risks on the road.
Statistics show that seniors are more likely than any other drivers to receive traffic citations for mobility-related incidences. In fact, seniors are at a higher risk for road accidents–especially multiple car accidents at intersections–than any other age group.
Some state DMVs have specific licensing standards for senior drivers, like additional mandatory driving tests and vision and hearing evaluations, drivers education courses, and more frequent license renewal intervals. However, many states do not have driving laws pertaining to seniors. Even with additional driving regulations and renewal requirements, though, unsafe senior drivers may be able to slip under the DMV’s radar. Research suggests that drivers with dementia or Alzheimer’s may pass a routine driving test under controlled conditions, but prove to still drive unsafely on their own. Medical experts say that administering driving tests for senior drivers is an oversimplified approach to the complex neurological and physical effects of aging.
Though many seniors voluntarily begin to limit their driving or change their driving practices when they notice warning signs of impaired mobility, others may be reluctant to give up driving completely, potentially putting themselves and others on the road in danger. In this case, it is often up to the caregiver to step in.
Urging an aging loved one to stop driving can be a difficult and delicate situation. To the caretaker, taking the keys away may seem like a simple and sensible decision; but for the senior, surrendering the ability to drive may represent the end of life as they’ve always known it. Here are steps a caregiver can take to ensure the safety and stability of their loved one when it comes to driving.
First, Know the Warning Signs
Clear symptoms of aging include vision and hearing loss, two senses vital to safe driving. Deteriorating vision can affect the correct reading of road signs and markings, traffic lights and signals, and other cars and pedestrians. Certain medications may also influence driving ability, causing drowsiness, blurred vision, and confusion. Diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s are common in among seniors and can make it incredibly difficult to drive. Signs of these conditions may include drifting into other lanes, missing turns, trouble with reflexes, increased anxiety and exhaustion after driving, and memory problems.
Next, Address the Problem
- Start Early. Don’t wait to discuss concerns about their driving. Talk to them before serious problems or danger arise.
- Be Proactive. Consult the senior’s doctor for vision, hearing, and other medical information. Under privacy laws, a physician must have a patient’s permission to share personal health information, so consider getting a medical Power of Attorney.
- Show Support. Some older drivers may respond to direct accusations with denial or anger. So instead, approach your loved one with respect, sensitivity, subtlety, and an understanding of how important driving is in their lives. A good way to start a discussion is with a question. For example, if he or she has recently received a traffic ticket, you could ask, “How are you doing with your driving? Are you finding it difficult to manage?”
- Get Special Driving Equipment. Look into getting special vehicle adjustments and adaptive equipment for the car like seatbelt and pedal adjusters, expanded mirrors, large knobs and buttons, active head restraints, power-operated seats, and a keyless ignition.
- Suggest Alternatives. Work with them to discover the pros and cons of driving. While driving may maintain their independence, there could be benefits to not driving, such as savings on car insurance, car maintenance, registration, gasoline, and more. Help them explore transportation alternatives such as carpooling, public transit, taxis or private drivers, bicycles, walking, motorized wheelchairs, or even specialized transit for seniors. For help finding transit services, consult local community and senior centers or agencies.
Finally, Consider Legal Alternatives
If no amount of discussion will persuade them to stop driving, you may want to consider taking the issue straight to the DMV. While this might be a difficult call to make, it is important to remember that their safety and the safety of others must come first. If you are a caretaker of an aging senior driver, you can get a Power of Attorney at RocketLawyer.com. To learn more about further legal actions you can take, check out Rocket Lawyer’s article, “Legal Steps to Stop an Unsafe Senior from Driving” under Senior Care.