To many elderly, driving = freedom. Many older drivers will understandably resist those who try to convince them that it is time to hand over the keys. Caregivers, however, may note their loved ones’ declining driving skills, and may legitimately become concerned for the safety of both their family members and others on the road. So how can you tell if a parent should no longer be behind the wheel? Here are 10 signs that an elderly driver may pose a threat to others.
- Drifting over the center line in the road
- Frequently bumping into curbs
- Ignoring or failing to note traffic signs and signals
- Reduced response time
- An inability to turn around in order to see out of vehicle windows
- Driving at inappropriate speeds
- Failing to see pedestrians or bicyclists
- Difficulty merging in traffic
- Becoming easily upset or anxious
- Tailgating or slamming on the brakes suddenly
If you decide that an aging family member is a dangerous driver, handling the situation will likely require great delicacy. However, lives may be involved, so it is important not to put off the discussion for too long. Calling a family meeting to discuss your concerns with the older driver, rather than simply taking away the keys, can help him or her to stay involved in the decision and accept the situation more readily. Including your loved one’s doctor in the discussion, and having him or her explain the possible risks involved can also lend weight to your argument. Additionally, it may be helpful to research local transportation options so that you can explain them to the family member in question. Many cities and towns offer inexpensive transportation for the elderly to places such as grocery stores, shopping malls, and other downtown areas. Providing elderly ones with these options can allow them to retain some of the independence they may otherwise lose if they stop driving.
If an older driver is genuinely dangerous, and simply refuses to discontinue driving, there are steps that you can take, such as contacting the local Department of Motor Vehicles. Many DMV’s have procedures in place to handle elderly drivers, and at the very least will often send a cautionary letter to the driver. In some cases it may be necessary to remove the keys from the older driver’s possession, move the vehicle to an inaccessible area, or disable the vehicle.
How to Keep Senior Drivers Safe
Many older drivers have years of experience behind the wheel, and are very safe. Others merely need to adjust their driving habits in order to remain safe. Some such adjustments are included below.
- Avoid driving in the dark
- Stay away from congested areas with a lot of traffic or pedestrian activity
- Drive to locations that are familiar and close to home
- Avoid driving in rush hour traffic
- Avoid driving in snowy conditions
There are things that you as a caregiver can do as well to ensure driver safety, including monitoring medication warnings. Many medications can affect judgement, and have warning labels indicating that they should not be taken while the patient is operating heavy machinery. Additionally, you can make sure that your family member’s car is safe. Check to make sure that tires are not overly worn, install a GPS system in the vehicle, and make sure that maintenance issues are promptly handled.
The AARP offers helpful driver safety courses specifically designed to assist older drivers to adapt their driving habits. Further find information on AARP courses. Just knowing that your family member has taken all possible steps to keep himself or herself safe can help you to relax a little.
Have tips for handling elderly drivers? Share with us on our Caregiver Forum.