Driving–Is Your Parent a Safe Driver?
Driving Is An Emotional Issue
Do you remember the day you first got your driver’s license? I do. I remember the exhilarating freedom. No more waiting for a ride somewhere–I could do my own driving. Now, just when we’ve quit worrying about our kid’s driving, we need to be aware of our aging parents driving safety.
Our parents don’t want to lose that independence. They want to go places on their own. They especially don’t want us, the children, the ones they probably taught to drive, questioning their competence. However, when we love someone, we have to say the hard things. We still have responsibility. We have to speak the truth in love.
After watching this video, you will think your parents the most tractable around.
A Common Dilemma With Elderly Parents
“I don’t know what to do about my parent’s driving”, is one of the most frequent laments I hear from friends caring for elderly parents. We suspect our parents aren’t driving safely anymore. They have vision problems. How can they drive? It isn’t only vision, decreased mobility can make it hard to turn the neck checking for other drivers. Decreased hearing, sensation and cognitive function are the root of some senior’s driving problems.
I found the statistics on older drivers interesting, especially since I’m now one of them:
It’s estimated that the age group [over 65] will grow to more than 40 million drivers by 2020. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that fatal crashes per mile traveled increase at about age 70 and peak at age 85 and older. Mar 5, 2015
I often think how horrible it would be for a senior to live with the fact they caused injury or death to another person. I see the young kids running around our church parking lot, elderly drivers backing out of parking spaces, and cringe. It’s hard to give up driving. It means a loss of independence and for many, especially in a rural setting like ours, one must depend “upon the kindness of strangers” or family members.
What We Did
My mom was easy. She’d never been a confident driver. When her vision got bad, she willingly gave up driving. My dad was the opposite. Per the eye doctor, his vision wasn’t the problem. We learned he’d lost the feeling in his lower legs (lower extremity neuropathy). It’s hard to push on the brakes and gas if you can’t feel them, but he had no intention of quitting driving. He didn’t believe it really impaired him.
He fought tooth and nail. He’d been in one accident but it was hard to tell if it was his fault, since the other driver had a bad driving record and rear-ended him. He, of course, insisted it was not his fault, Later, he ran over our neighbor’s lawn furniture, but didn’t tell us–or maybe he didn’t even know he’d done it. Finally, he drove in the ditch still not telling us. He asked the neighbor to get him out. Fortunately, our neighbor had the courage to tell us.
Dad, still wasn’t giving up. It took his neurologist explaining lower extremity neuropathy to him and its effect on his driving. He finally agreed to give up driving but he keeps a set of keys in his pocket.
How To Know When It’s Time
How do you know if your parent is a safe driver? It isn’t just about age. Some 90 year olds are still safe drivers, some 65 year olds aren’t. There are several “lists” available online for guidance. AARP has one, https://www.aarp.org/auto/driver-safety/info-2016/when-to-stop-driving-in-older-age.html
And The National Institute Of Health has one: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/older-drivers
The most comprehensive list found, is from the NHSTA:
20 warning signs that indicate a senior might not be safe to drive, according to the NHTSA:
- Drifts into other lanes
- Straddles lanes
- Makes sudden lane changes
- Ignores or misses stop signs and traffic signals
- Gets easily confused in traffic
- Brakes or stops abruptly without cause
- Accelerates suddenly without reason
- Coasts to a near stop in the midst of moving traffic
- Presses simultaneously on the brake and accelerator while driving
- Has difficulty seeing pedestrians, objects and other vehicles
- Is increasingly nervous when driving
- Drives at significantly slower than the posted speed or general speed of other vehicles
- Backs up after missing an exit or road
- Difficultly reacting quickly as they process multiple images or sounds
- Problems with neck flexibility in turning to see traffic on the left or right
- Gets lost or disoriented easily, even in familiar places
- Fails to use the turn signal, or keeps the signal on without changing lanes
- Increased “close calls” and “near misses”
- Has been issued two or more traffic tickets or warnings in the past two years
- Dents and scrapes on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs
What to do about unsafe elderly drivers
When you notice several of these warning signs, it is time to assess the situation. Don’t wait for an accident. But be sympathetic to your loved one’s feelings. Losing the right to drive is a traumatic event. Giving up the car keys is viewed by elders a major event that represents loss of independence and self-sufficiency.
Rather than forcibly taking away the keys, suggest a driving test to evaluate an elder’s ability to operate a car. A driving assessment is available at the local Department of Motor Vehicles. https://www.agingcare.com/articles/signs-elder-unsafe-driver-153264.htm
In our state, Washington, this didn’t happen. Dad’s doctor wasn’t willing to document his inability to drive. We told the DMV, we thought he needed to stop driving. They did a parked driving test (the examiner tested him in his parked car) and said they didn’t see cause to refuse him a license and gave him a new one. Unless the driver gets in an accident, and the police get involved, giving up driving is voluntary.
Having “The Talk” About Driving
No one wants to be the one to tell their parents to give up the car keys. It’s a hard conversation. How should we approach it? After a lot of research, here are the tips I gleaned:
Emphasize it is not about age, it’s about driving safety.
Be ready to drive your parents to the places that matter to them. If you can’t, offer alternative transportation.
Use good communication skills, “I” messages, not “you” messages. For example, “I’m concerned about your safety, Dad”, instead of “You’re not a safe driver.”
Don’t get off-topic. Allow plenty of time and keep the discussion on driving. This is not the time to discuss other issues–stick to the driving issue.
Make sure they know you don’t want to curtail their social life. You want them to continue all the activities they enjoy. You just want safe transportation. (This is why it’s important you’re ready with alternatives in the beginning. You don’t want them to start riding with another senior buddy who is equally unsafe.)
Try to emphasize the positive. Assure them of your love for them. Be prepared for anger and hurt feelings. This will touch deep feelings and memories. My dad had a love affair with his Model A. Things may end on a tense note. If so, set a time for a follow-up discussion. Let your loved one have time to process the information.
Best Wishes for success in your caregiving, driving advising, adventure,