Driving is one of our greatest expressions of independence. But for many older adults, there comes a time when age-related conditions make it impossible to drive safely.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the rate of fatal accidents per mile of driving increases steadily for drivers 65 and older. How do you know if your parent, spouse, or other older family member or friend is no longer safe behind the wheel? And how and when do you bring up the discussion about handing over the keys and finding a new home for the car?
Warning Signs of Unsafe Driving
Age alone doesn’t dictate when a person needs to stop driving, so before approaching your loved one it’s important to be certain that they are no longer safe behind the wheel—which can be tricky and subjective.
If a driver is showing these signs, it may be time to intervene:
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Frequent fender benders or traffic tickets
- Driving too fast or too slowly for road conditions
- Difficulty changing lanes or staying in the correct lane
- Becoming distracted while driving
- Getting confused by traffic signals or not knowing how to respond in a certain situation
Consult your loved one’s physician to find out if any medical conditions or medications they are taking might impair their driving ability.
Asking Someone to Stop Driving
Driving is one of the most difficult topics to discuss with an older loved one because it is so integral to their independence. Giving up this major freedom isn’t easy; many seniors may feel defensive and angry at the idea of giving up the keys.
Here are some tips for making this conversation successful:
- Prepare for the conversation by gathering some examples
Before starting a conversation with your older parent, make note of the reasons you feel they would be safer as a passenger. Take a short drive together and notice any of the warning signs of unsafe driving mentioned above. When you sit down to talk, express that their well-being is your utmost concern. Sharing your observations about their driving will help you illustrate why you are concerned for their safety and the safety of others. (For some people, the well-being of others may resonate more than their own safety). It’s ok to cite external factors for your concern. For example, “Most other drivers are distracted, and I’m concerned that that puts you at risk.”
- Approach the subject from a place of respect and concern
Respect your loved one’s dignity. Instead of pointing out all the reasons they are unsafe to drive, express your concerns with your loved one, and ask for their opinions and feelings. Make sure the conversation doesn’t come across as an intervention. Emphasize that you share the same goals: to bolster their independence, and to keep them safe. Be sure you set aside time to process the emotions associated with this transition.
- Discuss alternative transportation
To ensure your loved one can remain active and engaged in their community after they stop driving, help them make a plan for alternative types of transportation. For example, if they drive to book club every week, reach out to a friend who also attends and ask if they can carpool. If they shop for groceries, arrange to have the groceries delivered or consider whether it’s time for home delivered meals.Ride sharing programs such as Lyft or Uber can be easy and cost-effective, and offer the added benefit of helping your parent feel that by summoning a ride, they’re still in control. Or consider hiring a caregiver who can drive your loved one to activities and run errands.
- Give it time
Your loved one is unlikely to decide to stop driving after one conversation, so be prepared to continue the discussion over time. Acknowledge that this loss of independence is coming at time in which they are likely experiencing many losses at once—of health, ability, and of friends and family members. Check in often and encourage your loved one to try other forms of transportation whenever possible.
- Bring in a professional
If you are struggling, it can help to bring in a professional who can explain the risks of driving and what the alternatives are. Seniors At Home Care Managers are experts at facilitating these kinds of conversations and are able to provide a family consultation to help you and your family navigate difficult decisions.
To set up a consultation, or with any questions related to aging and senior care, call us at 415-449-3777 or contact us online.