Should your elderly parent be driving?

By Ryan Hurlbert on July 30th, 2010

Auto Insurance

At some point, physical and cognitive abilities may not be able to keep pace with the demands of driving. It would be wonderful if everyone recognized that it is time to hang up the car keys, but a lifetime of freedom is a hard thing to give up. Often, it is up to adult children, or a caregiver, to determine when a senior is no longer able to drive safely. So, how do you know when it is time to retire your parent's driver's license?

Signs your senior driver is in trouble

A few telltale signs that the senior in your life shouldn't be driving anymore include dents, dings and scrapes on the car. Even small dents are indicative of a loss of depth perception or the ability to turn around adequately to pull in or out of the garage or maneuver into tight spaces. You should also look into any tickets, warnings or minor accidents to see if they are truly minor--or if they may point to a bigger issue.

You might also consider riding along in the car with your elderly parent, but don't make this a "test" of driving skills. Instead, let your parent drive when you go somewhere together and observe driving skills at that time. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and Helpguide.org, you should be aware of:

  • Lane placement and weaving. Does the car seem to be hugging the center line or shoulder? The car should not wander from side-to-side, but should proceeding straight down the lane.
  • Speed. Driving too slow is as bad as driving too fast. Caution is great, but fear and nervousness behind the wheel can be dangerous. Your parent should also be able to get up to speed and merge into traffic safely.
  • Stopping distance. When stopping at an intersection, a reasonable distance should be kept from the car ahead. Leaving a huge gap and then creeping forward a few feet at a time could indicate loss of depth perception. Being unable to judge the distance between objects can make it difficult to change lanes, park, or merge into traffic.
  • Physical control. Is steering, braking and acceleration done smoothly? Physical ability often diminishes with age, so make sure your parent has the strength to push hard enough on the brakes to stop the car quickly and the physical mobility to look over-the-shoulder when changing lanes or backing out of the driveway.
  • Decision-making. Confusion and slow decision making behind the wheel of a car can be dangerous. Getting lost, especially on familiar roads, could mean it is time to stop driving. Anything that causes an inability to make quick decisions, react to unexpected situations or navigate can make driving nearly impossible.

Delivering the news

Once you have decided it is time to limit or eliminate driving for your loved one, you have to convince them to heed your wishes. These tips from The National Safety Commission may be helpful.

  • Be understanding. Losing the freedom to make your own plans and take care of your own affairs is frightening for many seniors. These are real fears and you should be empathetic. If you believe your parent shouldn't be driving anymore, stand firm but listen to any concerns.
  • Have a plan. Be ready with a transportation plan. Research public transportation options, family and friends--even taxi cab rates. Show them that the occasional taxi ride may not cost more than what is spent on gas and insurance. So your senior doesn't have to ask for help, schedule days when you and other family members or friends can provide transportation.
  • Be specific. Tell your parent why you want them to stop or limit driving and cite specific reasons.
  • Don't overreact. Should your parent stop driving for good or should driving just be limited to the daylight hours? Be honest with yourself about your elderly parent's abilities, and don't take away the car keys if you don't have to.
  • Go to the doctor. Review medications with your parent's doctor to make sure the problem can't be eliminated with a different prescription. Enlist the help of the doctor; medical advice is often taken more seriously.
  • DMV. Your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may also be able to help. Some states allow anonymous tips of unsafe drivers, but others may require a medical professional to request a retesting of a driver or revocation of driving privileges. Check with your local DMV for your state's rules.
  • Plan ahead. Ask your loved ones under what circumstances you should confiscate keys and write it down. Agree to a course of action in advance, so when the time comes you can execute the plan.

A little advance planning and an open discussion, which includes solutions to transportation needs, can ease the transition. Remember how many trips to school, the mall, work or soccer practice your parents provided for you when you were younger--now it may be time for you to return the favor.

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