The Elderly Driver
We know that driving in old age can be a problem. In 2008, 4600 older adults were killed in vehicle crashes and the rate of fatal accidents sharply increases after the age of 70.
But, getting older does not necessarily mean that a person becomes incapable of driving. And, we all age differently, so there is not a particular age at which driving becomes unsafe.
Certain things that are associated with aging can impact a person’s ability to drive:
Causes of Dangerous Elderly Driving
- Cognitive decline – some diseases that impact older people like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can impair a person’s ability to be coordinated, remember driving rules, process information quickly, or pay attention.
- Physical Changes: Pain, flexibility, and joint stiffness can make motions more difficult – like turning your head to look for oncoming traffic or make difficult turns. Aging can reduce a person’s reaction time, however, normal aging does not usually impair reaction times enough to impact driving. However, things like Parkinson’s disease, stroke, arthritis, or muscle weakness from inactivity can slow a person down enough to impact driving.
- Vision: Cataracts are one disorder associated with aging that can make night driving difficult. Near sightedness or other vision problems like a loss of peripheral vision can seriously interfere with driving safety.
- Hearing: A loss of hearing can make it difficult to be aware of a problem – like an out of control car coming from a blind spot or knowing when someone is passing. It can also be difficult to detect certain mechanical problems of the car.
- Medications: Seniors are more likely to be on medications. Some of these can reduce reaction time or cause drowsiness and impair a person’s ability to drive.
Warning Signs for Driving Safety
1. General Clues:
- Does your loved one talk about driving and include some hesitation about driving on busy highways?
- Does your loved one make statements about not being able to drive at night anymore or verbalize a concern?
- Are there new unexplained dents on the car?
- Do people honk at your loved one frequently and/or does your loved one talk about how rude other drivers are? The other drivers may be reacting to poor driving incidents.
- Does your loved one complain about getting lost more frequently?
2. Do a Test Drive: Go with your loved one and look for the following:
- Does he/she appear to:
- get lost easily?
- be confused?
- become easily frustrated or stressed while driving?
- Do other driver’s appear upset by his/her driving?
- Is your loved one going inappropriately slow or act overly cautious?
- Can he/she follow basic rules of driving – like the speed limit, being in the correct turning lane, etc.?
- Does he or she come to complete stops at intersections?
- Can the person stay in his or her lane at all times?
- Do left turns, ramps, passing, or changing lanes appear difficult for the person?
3. Use the “grandchild” test: Would you let your child go alone with your loved one in the car for a 15-minute drive? If the answer is no, the person probably should not be driving. (Adapted from “The 36-Hour Day” by Mace and Rabins).
Safety Tips to Help Elderly Drivers
Determine the cause of potentially impaired driving and find solutions that may help – such as:
- Encourage more physical fitness through exercise to control stiffness, pain, and muscle weakness. The more physically fit a person is, the better he or she is able to be coordinated, flexible and strong enough to drive. Remember to see a doctor before starting any new exercise program and ask for suggestions on how to improve physical skills and mobility for driving.
- Get an updated eye exam and ask specifically for a driving evaluation. Then, remember to have your loved one wear the correct glasses, etc. for driving. If cataracts are a problem, look into corrective procedures that will enable your loved one to drive again.
- Hearing aids can improve a person’s awareness. Limit extra noises like kids, the radio, etc. If you suspect hearing to be a concern, see about getting a hearing evaluation.
- Consider switching to an easier car to drive (smaller, with power steering and brakes, bigger mirrors, etc.).
- Investigate local resources to find out if there are defensive driving courses in your area. Look online at AARP or find your local AAA.
- Do a Med Check: A physician or pharmacist could evaluate all the current medications your loved one is taking and make recommendations regarding driving.
How to Deal with Your Concerns as a Caregiver
- Talk: The first thing is to begin having an honest conversation with your family member. This is not easy and there may be a lot of resistance. Driving is part of a person’s identity, freedom, independence, and sense of competence. So, tread lightly. Instead of coming right out saying that the person cannot drive again, start by letting him or her know what concerns you. Maybe several conversations will be necessary.
- Talk to your family member’s physician. Sometimes, sharing your concern there and having your loved one come in later for an exam is the easiest route. It may be easier to accept the news coming from the doctor rather than an adult child for instance.
- Prepare for the conversation by looking into the laws in your state about what, if any, conditions can cause a revocation of the license to drive.
- Prepare with some options for how your loved one will get around. Look into bus schedules, cab fares, costs of public transportation, senior ride programs, etc:
Find More Information at: