With age comes many changes, and one of those is often a reduced ability to drive. Older drivers may experience confusion or delayed responses, and these can endanger themselves and others around them. While losing the freedom to drive is a challenging transition, there are ways that loved ones can approach the conversation to make the decision even more freeing.
When Should Older Drivers Stop Driving?
If you are the one getting older and are not sure how your driving skills are faring, it can be difficult to know when it is time to switch from the driver’s to the passenger’s seat. We are not advocating that all older drivers should have their keys taken away. Driving without complete control is dangerous no matter how a driver’s age, and all drivers are different, young or old, so a one-size-fits-all solution does not apply.
Knowing when it is time for elderly drivers to shift to another seat requires the mindfulness of both driver and his or her loved ones. If you as a driver have difficulty performing ordinary tasks while driving (staying in the lane, making turns, staying focused, seeing or understanding signage, staying calm, etc.), consider handing over the keys.
If you rely on others to check for oncoming traffic or pedestrians or if passengers no longer feel safe with you behind the wheel, it is time to have the conversation. Even signs outside of the vehicle should be taken into consideration. Difficulty performing other tasks or a general mental confusion is an indication that it is time to stop driving even if loved ones have not had the opportunity to witness the elder in the driver’s seat. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia especially should indicate the need for a shift.
The Consequences of Ignoring the Signs
While having the conversation to ask older drivers to stop driving is uncomfortable, that discomfort pales in comparison to the potential consequences of not having it at all. These apply to the driver and the vehicle but also passengers (often other loved ones) and others on the road.
Impaired driving can lead to car accidents, ranging from mild to severe, which can lead to property damage, fear and anxiety, injury, and even death. Older drivers, especially when driving alone, are also at risk of getting lost. The dangers of mental confusion are compounded when in control of a vehicle that can cover ground quickly.
Having the Conversation and Making the Decision
To keep everyone safe, loved ones should monitor their older drivers’ changes in physical health, mental acuity, and driving ability. Do put off having the difficult conversation until the consequences are dramatic. Losing the freedom to drive can be very frustrating and frightening, so do not compound that feeling with bad experiences behind the wheel. If you are the older driver, try to have an open mind about when it is time to stop driving and allow others to help.
When having the conversation, be sensitive to the difficulty of the change. Your elderly loved one may become defensive, sad, hurt, or even angry if you suggest they take an extended turn as a passenger. It is important to respond with a level head, with sympathy, and with firmness.
While the conversation should be a discussion and not a lecture and you certainly should not have a script, it can be very helpful to approach the conversation with a plan. Consider how you will phrase your suggestions, and have some alternative solutions prepared including driving services or delivery options. Anticipate the kind of pushback or counterarguments you may receive.
This planning can be done as a family or with the help of other loved ones. Together you can also decide on the best messenger. Is there someone your loved one is more likely to listen to and respect? Remember that the dialogue does not have to focus on the driver but can also reference changes in situation including new medications or driving conditions.
If you have a plan, you can feel prepared when events naturally lead into the topic. If your loved one receives a new diagnosis or perscription, the subsequent conversation may offer a good segue into the topic. If your loved one starts leaving functions early to avoid driving at night, it might be an invitation to broach the subject.
If the Conversation Doesn’t Go Well
If the conversation goes poorly, there are a few avenues available. You may find it necessary to call in reinforcements, including the elderly driver’s physician. He or she may deem it wise to issue a no-driving “order” or “prescription” to help the older driver see the seriousness of the situation. You should be aware, though, that a doctor is not required to take any steps legally to take elderly drivers off the road.
Nor is the state. The state will not revoke any driver’s license based solely on age. However, some driver’s license renewal systems will require aptitude tests. Sometimes you must simply trust the older drivers in your life to take your conversation to heart after some reflection. Work as a team to keep them and others on the road safe.