You may have noticed that when your dad drives, he struggles to stay between the lines or stop as quickly at lights as he used to. Maybe you’re concerned about the new dents in your mother’s car.
Any aging driver will experience changes in their vision, physical condition, and cognitive abilities, so it’s natural to be worried about their safety behind the wheel. If so, it may be time to sit down with your elderly friend or family member and have a serious discussion about the future of their driving.
Still, this can be a very difficult conversation for many reasons. In this article, we’ll explore the facts behind driving while aging and the dangers for older drivers. We’ll also explore some warning signs that it’s time to talk, as well as some strategies to handle this difficult conversation.
What Happens to Drivers as They Age?
When aging, the systems of the body begin to break down over time, and functions we used to give no thought to can become difficult or painful. This is especially prominent when it comes to driving.
Deteriorating vision or slowed reactions can make it harder to read signs or react to hazards on the road. Stiff joints or other aches and pains can make steering, operating brake pedals, or even turning your head awkward and uncomfortable.
Not to mention a variety of other health issues that pose their own unique challenges.
These changes, even apart from unsafe driving, can cause your loved ones to feel like they are losing control of their life, and feelings of fear, frustration, and denial.
They may see driving as part of maintaining an independent lifestyle, and explain away problems as insignificant or as one-time incidents. After all, no one wants to reach a point in life where they can’t function without assistance.
The Danger for Older Drivers
The simple fact is that older adults are at an increased risk for serious injury and even death in a motor vehicle accident. Here are the facts:
- Aging drivers make up 18% of traffic deaths per year
- Elderly drivers are more likely to get in accidents during “ideal driving times” (daylight/low traffic hours)
- While after age 70, crashes per mile driven increases yearly
- Drivers over age 75 are drastically more likely to be in a fatal car accident
Understanding the Time and Method of Intervention
It’s important to know the risks that our elderly loved ones or aging parents face behind the wheel. but at the same time, there are alternatives to giving up driving that can help keep your loved ones safe while driving.
They may be able to improve their strength and range of motion or use better mirrors, cameras, backup sensors, and other driver safety features to decrease the risk of accidents. Agreeing on certain driving times and conditions can also improve their safety while maintaining independence.
Yet for all this to take place, a conversation needs to happen, and most elderly drivers are willing to do so. In fact, one survey by the Princeton Survey Research Center found that the vast majority (75+%) of aging drivers felt that input from loved ones, physicians, or even the DMV would be valuable in making their decision.
Preparing to Talk to Your Loved Ones About Driving
Now that you have a better understanding of the situation your loved one faces, the important part is approaching this conversation in a collaborative way. After all, everyone’s on the same team, working to make sure that your loved ones have freedom and independence while staying safe.
We’ve come up with a few strategies that can help make this conversation a bit easier.
Go for a Ride and Gather Some Facts
Before you begin your conversation, it is very helpful to be familiar with your elderly parent or loved one’s driving challenges, if there are any. Go for a ride while out running errands, and pay attention to any specific areas of concern. Having specific details can help the eventual conversation about their driving abilities be more productive.
Note: We don’t recommend physically taking notes in the car, as this can make your loved one understandably defensive.
See it From Their Perspective
The key to a constructive conversation is to understand where your loved one is coming from. They almost certainly notice that their strength, health, and independence are not what they used to be, and this can be a difficult, emotionally challenging realization.
That’s why we recommend approaching this situation from a collaborative angle. You are both on the same team, putting their needs first, and seeking a solution that keeps them as safe and independent as possible.
Choose the Right Person, Time, and Place
Often, this conversation can be brought up easier if it’s made by someone they respect, for example, a peer who may be dealing with the same issues. Anything to help them understand that they’re not alone and that they’re not being singled out.
We also recommend that this be a one on one conversation. More people in the room can also make your loved one feel isolated.
Note: If your loved one is already dealing with major difficulties in life, like the death of a spouse or personal health struggles, it may not be the right time to have this discussion. Always choose a time and location where they’ll be open, comfortable, and free from pressure.
Talking With Your Loved One
Eventually, though, you’ll have to have this difficult conversation. You know your loved ones best, so use your intuition, but in general, we have a few strategies to make the conversation easier.
Acknowledge the Difficulty of the Subject
Taking a moment to acknowledge the difficulty of the discussion can help them understand that you’re on their side, working to solve this problem together.
Take the Time to Listen
Ask them to share their thoughts and feelings, then take the time to listen. Remember, this can be an emotional subject, and working with your loved one is the best way to help find a solution that keeps them safe, happy, and still feeling empowered.
Talk About the Facts and Specifics
Some elderly drivers may not need much convincing, but others may be resistant to making a change. At this point, it can be helpful to present them with the facts, especially the specifics you noticed when driving with them.
Help drive home the point that while you respect them and their independence, you also care deeply about their safety.
It’s not necessary to immediately jump to taking the car keys and asking your loved one to stop driving altogether. In many situations, a senior driver may be able to extend their years on the road and continue to drive with a little bit of help.
They may benefit from physical therapy, special adaptive driving equipment (such as a steering wheel knob to help them grip the wheel better), or from a change in their driving routine (such as only driving during daylight hours, but avoiding driving at night or poor weather driving).
Work with the Professionals
One ideal solution is for your loved one to be evaluated by a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS). These occupational therapists are trained to determine your loved one’s strengths and weaknesses on the road and help prescribe them a personalized course of action to keep them driving as long as safely possible.
In the event that your loved one is no longer safe to be on the road, a CDRS can also help make a transportation plan (exploring both family, private, and public transportation options) to keep them mobile and independent.
It’s important to note that taking one of these evaluations does not lead to having their license confiscated. A CDRS does not have the power to suspend a driver’s license, though they will recommend what they feel is in the patient’s best interest.
Be Willing to Give Them Time
Some older drivers may readily agree that something needs to change, but again, others may be less receptive. If your loved one is initially resistant, and their safety isn’t a major concern, you can bring up the topic again at a later date.
Take the Next Step
We know how hard it can be to face these problems with a loved one and find solutions, which is why we founded The Next Street Driver Rehab Services.
We take a personalized approach to each driver and can bring our evaluation team directly to them in their own home, or they can come to one of our therapy centers in several locations across the state.
Our goal is to work with you and your loved ones to understand and develop their driving skills, and if needed, find the best possible alternative transportation options.
If you’d like to learn more about our services, you can visit our Driver Rehabilitation Homepage, or call us at 860-483-7009.