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Should My Elderly Parent Be Driving?

When my dad was in his early 90s, my parents depended on Dad’s ability to drive. I worried that he might need to give up his license, but they lived in a 55+ community in a fairly rural area. The nearest grocery stores and restaurants were about five miles away. Because of this and fear of losing his independence, Dad kept driving far longer than he should have.

5 reasons why your elderly parent should consider surrendering their driver’s license:

  1. certain medical conditions
  2. vision changes and/or hearing loss that cannot be improved with aids or other devices
  3. changes in driving behavior that raise red flags (driving too fast or too slow, pulling out in front of other cars, drifting into other lanes, etc)
  4. an increase in traffic tickets or accidents
  5. or if their loved ones are concerned about their ability to be safe on the road.

It is well known that elderly drivers pose a higher crash risk than their younger counterparts. Seniors have slower reaction times and often have problems with mobility, especially after age 80.

While these factors can lead to impaired driving, if you add in one or more of the additional issues from the list above, the danger level increases for an elderly driver.

“In 2016, about 7,400 older adults (aged 65+) were killed and more than 290,000 were treated in emergency departments for motor vehicle crash injuries. This amounts to 20 older adults killed and 794 injured in crashes on average every day.”

~ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

At What Age Should An Elderly Person Stop Driving?

Technically and legally, there is no set age when you should stop driving. 

The law basically says that specific “medical conditions” are the only reason(s) that are acknowledged which would keep you from driving a vehicle.

Getting elderly to stop driving is often difficult at best and is made harder because no U.S. state has a mandatory age at which a person must give up their license.

Part of the problem with elderly drivers is that often seniors may not realize they have gone through changes that are making them unsafe on the road (or they don’t want to admit it). They fear being stuck at home, losing their independence, and they often are reluctant to “put out” a loved one and ask for a ride.

Many individuals experience psychological and physiological changes as they age.  Over time, these changes may impair one’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. – brooklinema.gov

If this sounds like your elderly loved one, read on for some red flags that can tell you when your senior loved one should stop driving and suggestions for getting them to hang up their keys.

For information about the laws concerning when seniors have to re-take their driving tests – click here.

1. Medical Conditions That Can Affect A Senior’s Driving Ability

There are certain medical conditions that can affect a senior’s driving ability. Health issues such as having had a stroke or being diagnosed with something such as Parkinson’s will reduce the senior’s mobility, while dementia or Alzheimer’s are going to cause impaired judgment.

Also, even seemingly minor issues like arthritis can pose a problem for an older driver. If the person’s neck is affected, they may not be able to turn around far enough to look over their shoulder when backing up or may have a hard time moving their legs to hit the brakes.

For some physical issues, there are car aids that can make driving more comfortable for seniors, though.

Additionally, some medications can make a person dizzy or confused or could cause blurry vision. Even over the counter medications like sleep aids could impair a senior driver, especially if they are combined with certain prescription medicines.

Talk to your parent’s pharmacist to find out if there are any drug interactions or side effects that could make their driving more risky (or you can talk to your own pharmacists if you know which prescriptions they are on).

2. Vision Or Hearing Loss Can Impact Elderly Drivers

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to learn that vision or hearing loss can impact elderly drivers and these issues become more common as we age. In fact, hearing loss affects about one third of adults over age 65.

Because this loss happens gradually, elderly drivers often aren’t aware of how much their hearing has been compromised.

Hearing aids help, but not completely: for example, if the car window is down, the wind blowing into the car may mask sounds. Wherein younger drivers would be instantly alert if they heard squealing tires or a blaring car horn, a senior driver may not realize they are in danger.

Good vision is paramount to driving safely. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that, ” he prevalence of blindness and vision impairment increases rapidly with age among all racial and ethnic groups, particularly after age 75.” This is because our retinas aren’t capable of receiving as much light.

Additionally, seniors face age-related vision problems such as cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma.

These vision changes affect driving so much that 10 states and the District of Columbia require elderly drivers to pass a vision test before renewing their driver’s license.

3. Changes In Driving Behavior In Seniors

Another thing that can be a sign that it is time to give up their license is changes in driving behaviors in seniors.

I always watched for behavioral changes when I drove with my elderly father. After he turned 95, he occasionally forgot to put on his seat belt.

He sometimes showed delayed response to light changes, especially if he was talking to me. He also began pulling out into traffic much more slowly and stopped driving at night on his own.

Since my dad had driven professionally his entire working career and had never had a ticket, these subtle changes worried me. They led to several conversations about it being time for him to consider surrendering his license.

4. Increases In Minor Accidents Or Traffic Tickets

Have you noticed increases in minor accidents or traffic tickets? When you visit your folks, it’s a good idea to check their car for recent damage. Small dents and minor damage could mean your senior parent is misjudging distances. For example, they may be clipping the mailbox or garage when pulling in or out.

Bigger damage probably means that your senior parent should stop driving. Have they sideswiped something? My father broke the side mirror on his car when he hit a curbside garbage can while trying to avoid an oncoming car.

That alone didn’t mean he had to give up driving, but it sure raised a red flag.

5. Your Own Concerns About A Senior Parent’s Driving

After Mom passed away, my dad reluctantly moved to a senior independent apartment about five miles from me. Because I was off on Fridays, I spent the day with him – we went out for lunch, ran errands, and visited doctors.

Dad usually drove on those Fridays. He wanted to stay sharp with his driving and he also wanted to put the mileage on his car instead of mine (thanks, Dad!).

While he drove, I looked for certain things that would mean he should stop driving:

  • Was he easily distracted?
  • How quickly did he react to traffic light changes?
  • Was he comfortable behind the wheel or did he strain to see?
  • Did he notice animals, bike riders or pedestrians?
  • Was he tailgating or leaving too much space between cars?
  • Did he drive too slow or too fast?
  • Would he get lost if I didn’t give him directions back to his place?

“Driving can often be considered one of the last symbols of independence for older adults,” said Lakelyn Hogan, gerontologist and caregiver advocate at Home Instead Senior Care. “The keys to keeping older drivers safe and independent are to continually assess a loved one’s abilities, communicate concerns and plan ways to transition driving practices, if needed.” – Home Instead Senior Care

Fortunately for him (and me) he did quite well for several years – although in his last two years I did notice that his reflexes slowed down alot and he did not have as much awareness of his surroundings as he should while driving.

For these reasons, he began driving less until eventually he stopped – which was very difficult for him.

But for his own safety and the safety of others – he felt it was the right thing to do.

But if you are having problems getting your senior loved one(s) to stop driving – here are our 6 tips to help you.

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