Driving is an important part of American culture, so much so that without it a person may feel as if they’ve lost their independence. When it comes to elderly drivers who face the potential loss of their privilege to drive, this feeling is often amplified. Not every senior loses his or her license, but safe driving is something that every senior should think about. In order to continue driving without incident, senior drivers must understand what they can do to continue driving safely and how to recognize changes that may signal a need to cut back or stop driving altogether. People acting as caregivers can also play a crucial part in keeping elderly drivers accident free.
How Old is Too Old to Drive?
Age isn’t always the determining factor when it comes to whether or not a person should stop driving. Some seniors are able to drive longer than others, due to factors such as good motor skills, vision, health and driving skills. Other factors, such as medication and illness, may require some seniors to stop driving at an earlier age. Often, there is a concern that seniors may get into more accidents than younger drivers. Although statistically crash fatalities among seniors increases over the age of 80, according to the Department of Transportation the increase in fatalities is more often a result of the senior’s susceptibility to injury, as opposed to getting in more accidents because of age.
Signs of Unsafe Driving
Instead of relying on a specific age to determine when a senior should stop driving, it is more important to be aware of unsafe driving habits and changes in the way seniors drive. In some instances, family and friends will need to pay attention to these warning signs, as the driver may be unable or unwilling to recognize them. Common signs to look out for include decreased reaction times and difficulty seeing, even if the senior wears glasses. Some elderly drivers may stop when it is not necessary or safe to do so. He or she may stop suddenly in the middle of an intersection, in front of a green light, or in the middle of the road. Others may display confusion about the operation of his or her car – thinking the gas is the brake pedal or vice versa. Common signs and signals associated with driving may also become confusing, or he or she may stop obeying them altogether. Near-collisions with cars or people are also significant warning signs. In some instances, the senior may not even be aware of these near-misses.
Steps Seniors Can Take to be Safer Drivers
In many cases, seniors will need to take extra precautions to ensure that they are driving safely while on the road. First, they can be sure to stay in good physical condition by eating healthy foods, taking any medications as directed and keeping scheduled doctors appointments. Routine eye examinations are also necessary to ensure that drivers are seeing as clearly as possible and to detect any eye conditions, such as cataracts. Seniors should also have their hearing tested, and any hearing aids serviced regularly. When taking medications that cause drowsiness, they should avoid driving. Planning out routes and driving during the daytime and when traffic is lightest are some methods that can help keep seniors safe. In some areas there are classes available for seniors to help them become better drivers.
Who Can Help Decide if a Senior’s Driving Skills Are a Problem
Often family members will decide if older relatives’ driving skills are problematic. This is an enormous responsibility and seniors may have difficulty judging this on their own. Their driving skills can be professionally assessed by state licensed driving skills evaluators. These evaluators determine if a senior’s driving skills have decreased. Additionally, clinical assessments are done by driving rehabilitation therapists who assesses behind-the-wheel driving skills and also review a person’s medical and driving history, medication use and ability to function. The clinical assessment may determine that the driver should discontinue driving altogether, or it may result in the recommendation for further training or special equipment for the vehicle. If the problem is health, hearing, or vision related, the appropriate doctor or ophthalmologist may be able to help.
How Health Care Providers Can Help
Some seniors or caregivers may question whether or not the senior should continue driving. This concern may be fueled by worries over health problems. When this is the case, the person should talk with his or her doctor. When talking to a health care provider it is important to communicate in a way that is open and honest about any concerns or incidents. The doctor can perform an examination and make recommendations based off of the exam results and the patients concerns. He or she may recommend that the patient decrease driving time, drive within certain times or stop driving altogether. Senior driving evaluations may also be recommended, particularly if there are no health problems that should hinder a person’s ability to drive.
Steps for Caregivers Worried About a Senior’s Driving
Caregivers can easily find themselves in a difficult situation when it comes to seniors and their ability to drive. When concerned about an elderly driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle, a caregiver should be respectful of that person’s need for independence. The prospect of losing one’s drivers license is frightening, and the caregiver should expect some resistance when it comes to giving it up. First, the caregiver should ride along with the senior to determine if there is an actual cause for concern. Once a problem has been determined, the caregiver should carefully approach the subject. He or she should begin by asking about any concerns the senior may have. The caregiver should then express his or her concerns and explain the possible dangerous consequences should the elder continue to drive. While talking, it is important to listen calmly and acknowledge the difficulty of giving up a license. This shows the elderly driver that the matter is not being taken lightly. Reviewing alternative transportation options will help the older driver understand that he or she does not have to give up important activities.
If the driver is resistant after this conversation, the caregiver may suggest talking with the family doctor or other family members. A driving assessment may be arranged for a professional to assess the seniors’ driving skills. If the driver is an immediate threat but still refuses to stop driving, the caregiver may have to contact the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to issue a safety complaint. This can be done anonymously and it will result in the DMV requiring the elder driver take a driving test. In the worst case scenario, it may be necessary to take the car keys away.
Senior Driving: Safety Tips, Warning Signs, and Knowing When to Stop: A guide for seniors regarding aging and changes to their driving abilities. The article reviews unsafe driving warning signs, how to be safe when driving, and how to adjust to not driving. The article includes a section for caregivers or loved ones and what they should do if a senior refuses to stop driving.
When You Are Concerned: This is a PDF brochure from the New York State Office for the Aging. The handbook is designed to help caregivers recognize when a loved one is having trouble driving and explains what should be done and where help can be found.
How to Help the Older Driver: A PDF sheet that lists warning signs that loved ones should look out for when driving with seniors. The sheet also gives the reader information on how to talk with seniors about giving up driving, creating plans for alternate transportation, and other tips on how to help them after they no longer drive.
When is it Time to Stop Driving: An article that covers knowing how old is too old to drive, gives signs of unsafe driving, and what can be done to help seniors become safer drivers. When the reader clicks on the second page, he or she can read about the effect that aging has on driving.
Caregivers, the Elderly, and Driving: A Web MD article that lists elderly driving safety tips for caregivers. Tips are about warning signs, getting an independent evaluation of the senior’s ability to drive, alternate transportation, and setting driving limits.
CBS Sacramento: How Old is too Old to Drive: A CBS news article that discusses age and driving. The end of the article includes statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully: An online brochure from the NHTSA on aging and driving. Readers can click on any specific topic in the brochure or they can click the “Next” arrow for the next page of information. This brochure covers topics such as vision, decreased reaction time, being alert to changes, where to get help, and alternate transportation.