Is it Time for Your Older Driver to Give Up the Keys?
According to a March 2018 report released by TRIP, a national transportation research group, 3.3 million licensed drivers in Florida are 65 or older (2nd in the U.S.), comprising 23 percent of all licensed drivers in the state. Fatalities in traffic crashes involving older drivers increased 22 percent from 2012 to 2016. The number of older drivers killed in those crashes increased by 16 percent nationwide. Because older drivers may have health conditions or take medications that negatively affect their driving abilities, this can put them and other road users at risk. Older drivers may not be aware of these changes, or they may not be willing to admit them – to themselves or to others – including family members. Or in the case of people with cognitive impairments like dementia; they don’t necessarily have the insight to recognize poor performance.
Family members or caregivers often wonder what they should do if they think a loved one’s driving skills have diminished. It can be a difficult issue to navigate because family members don’t know how to assess their senior’s driving abilities. They dread approaching an older loved one to discuss whether he or she needs to modify his or her driving habits or to stop driving altogether. However, older drivers and their families and caregivers need to take a realistic, ongoing inventory of the senior driver’s skills and openly discuss them. Family members need to remember one very important thing: many older drivers view driving as a form of independence. Bringing up the subject of their driving abilities can make some older drivers defensive, angry, hurt, or withdrawn. Be prepared with observations and questions, listen with an open mind, and be prepared to offer transportation alternatives.
If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, it is time to have a frank discussion with your older driver:
- Does he or she get lost on routes that should be familiar?
- Have you noticed new dents, scratches, or other damage to his or her vehicle?
- Has he or she been warned by a police officer, about poor driving performance, or received a ticket for a driving violation
- Has he or she experienced a near miss or crash recently?
- Has his or her doctor advised him or her to limit or stop driving due to a health reason?
- Is he or she overwhelmed by signs, signals, road markings, and everything else he or she needs to focus on when driving?
- Does he or she take any medication that might affect his or her capacity to drive safely?
- Does he or she stop inappropriately and/or drive too slowly, preventing the safe flow of traffic?
- Does he or she suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, glaucoma, cataracts, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, or other illnesses that may affect his or her driving skills?
If you answered “yes” to any of the previous questions about a senior driver, it is important to have a caring, respectful, and non-confrontational conversation about his or her safety, as well as the safety of others on the road. Show genuine concern and understanding, and offer viable alternatives that will not injure the their self-respect and sense of independence. Some first steps in evaluating the situation are to take a ride with your older driver to observe driving skills, get vision and hearing evaluations and encourage enrollment in an older driver safety class. You can also discuss your concerns with your loved one’s physician, and ask for recommendations.
The good news is that depending on the severity of the problem, older drivers may be able to adjust their driving habits to increase their safety. For example, they may limit driving to daylight hours and good weather, or avoid highways and high traffic areas.