When Should A Senior Stop Driving

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Updated onJun. 09, 2022

One of the harshest realities associated with aging is the loss of mobility and agency. It can be particularly difficult to assess and address when you may be a threat to yourself and others by handling certain matters on your own.

One such activity that is common among those who take care an aging loved one is driving.

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Many of us spend a vast majority of our lives behind the wheel of vehicles, as we commute to work, run errands for our families, embark out on a night of entertainment or even long distance travel. However, there may come a time in which we must consider, not only our safety, but the safety of our passengers and other motorists.

It can be hard to convince a loved one that it is time to surrender their driver’s license. But walking into a conversation about aging drivers equipped with a balance approach of valuable information, compassion and solutions may help the senior in your life understand the right decision to make.

Make an Honest Health Assessment

Two of the most important factors to consider when approaching a senior who might no longer be able to continue driving are their mental and physical health.

Factors such as vision, hearing, reflexes and physical coordination are prime among issues which can hinder an aging driver from being efficient and alert when heading out onto the road.

A driver who struggles to see or hear, regardless of age, will have difficulty identifying hazards, road signs and obstacles up ahead or around their vehicle. Additionally, an unreliable reaction time or diminished physical strength and range of motion can create instances in which a driver has a delayed or labored response to quick decisions and movements necessary to operating a motor vehicle. The demands of the road can be unpredictable. While a casual driver does not need to be in peak physical shape to meet those demands, you may encourage any aging loved one to be realistic about limitations they may face when attempting to complete ordinary motions in their car.

Along with these factors, are more specific ailments which can create complications while attempting to drive. These include conditions such as glaucoma, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, cataracts, arthritis, seizures, diabetes and other chronic issues.

Drivers who may be taking medications to correct any of these illnesses may be able to control symptoms and behaviors associated with their specific ailment. However, be mindful that some medications can cause side effects which create new risk factors when paired with driving. It is important to know exactly what medications an aging driver may be taking and to understand fully if they are recommended to avoid driving while on these medications.

Warning Signs

Many seniors exhibit warning signs that driving is no longer safe. You may have already noticed some of these, and there may be others you should keep an eye out for.

It’s best to lead with compassion, as the decision for a person to surrender their driver’s license can potentially feel like a debilitating loss of personal freedom.

  • Failure to yield or stop when prompted by signs or traffic lights
  • Inability to recognize the right of way
  • Inability to keep track of speed limits
  • Forgetting to signal when turning or switching lanes
  • Routinely becoming lost (especially in familiar areas)
  • Inconsistent acceleration (erratic control of speeds)
  • Challenges with recognizing distance between vehicles and objects
  • Difficulty merging and changing lanes
  • Frequent “near-misses” in which accidents almost occurred
  • Road rage, anxiety and stress

More obvious signs, such as vehicle damage, frequent traffic violations and collisions may warrant more immediate intervention.

How to Have the Talk

Now that you know what to look for regarding your aging loved one’s current health condition and any issues they may already be having while behind the wheel, you should think about the best way to approach them.

It’s best to lead with compassion, as the decision for a person to surrender their driver’s license can potentially feel like a debilitating loss of personal freedom. Ultimately, your goal should be to leave the conversation with your loved one feeling as if you made decision together, instead of feeling like they have been given a directive. You also don’t want to make them feel as if they are a public nuisance, threat or hazard, as this process is natural. Also, you want to provide support for alternatives that can make this transition easier on your loved one, ensuring that with understanding and an open mind they can find new, efficient ways to get around that may even be more of privilege than having to drive themselves around.

Ask Questions

In order to make this decision feel mutual, you may find more success in having reverence for your loved one’s experience. Rather than laying all the information you’ve gathered on them, ask them specific questions about their personal health and their experiences on the road. How do they feel when they drive? What challenges have they faced when driving alone? Have they noticed any changes in their ability to do tasks that used to be much easier?

If you have fostered an honest space for your loved one to share, they may provide insights you never noticed about their behaviors on their road. They may even begin to see for themselves that relinquishing their license might be the best choice available to them, making your conversation much easier.

Be firm in regards to safety

The most important aspect of this conversation is “safety”. Though it may be difficult to iterate gingerly, an unsafe driver, no matter their age, can create unnatural traffic situations that can cause personal harm or lead to the harm of numerous other people. A sincere assessment of abilities can alleviate your own concern for a loved one’s safety, as well as any residual harm or guilt associated with causing harm to community members.

Emphasize that you are coming from a place of care, rather than contempt or reprimand.

Alternatives

Surrendering a driver’s license isn’t the end-all-be-all of independence. The senior in your life should feel comfortable in knowing that there are several other ways to get around. Though learning a new system of transportation can require some level of planning to get used to, options allow for anyone to find a preference that is suitable to their needs. Besides, you will offer support in helping your loved one adjust.

A sincere assessment of abilities can alleviate your own concern for a loved one’s safety, as well as any residual harm or guilt associated with causing harm to community members.

Give your loved one information about public transportation, carpool services, apps such as Uber and Lyft, and volunteer programs that may already have a system geared toward helping seniors remain mobile. Make sure you are already somewhat knowledgeable about any possible drawbacks or considerations that your loved one may have questions about. Be ready to talk about concerns they may have including their personal safety or any potential financial burden these alternatives may present. Be ready to think critically about ways to alleviate their potential fear of change. Most importantly, be prepared to offer your help in making the change worthwhile.

Be Prepared to Compromise

In the end, the senior in your life may be completely reluctant to give up the act of driving. That may be discouraging to you. It may also be concerning. However, there may be room for compromise. So, don’t give up, just yet!

If your loved one insists on continuing to drive, present the idea that they learn to modify their habits and create a realistic set of responses for any difficulties they have on the road.

Encourage them to take a “Mature Drivers Course”, which can update them on road safety habits, road rules, technologies, and defensive driving techniques. Ask them to limit their driving to daylight hours in order to ensure that they can see the environment around them well enough to make it to and from their destinations. Suggest that they refrain from driving long distances while alone, giving them some extra eyes to help them make their way. Also suggest alternative routes that may reduce stress associated with rush hour traffic and busy roads and highways.

Encourage your loved one to pull over whenever they are in distress, and present yourself as an accountability partner who is willing to answer the phone and respond appropriately if ever there is an emergency on the road.

Have your loved one speak to their doctor about their health. Specifically, have them ask detailed questions about their driving habits, medications and their effect on driving.

Also, make your loved one aware that there are modifications that can be made to their vehicle to help them remedy any lack of movement they have within the cabin of their car or truck. With these tools, they can better reach the steering wheel, pedal or other instruments.

In some cases, the thought of driving with so many new variables to worry about may make your loved one more inclined to give into the idea of stopping their driving, altogether. If not, you can, at least have the peace of mind that they may become better drivers with some form of formal help and attention to detail.

Surrendering a License Is not the End of Independence

If your loved one does agree to stop driving, you can take solace in the idea that you’ve likely done a good thing for their safety and the safety of the public.

However, there is more work to do in order to make them feel comfortable with their decision.

After making this decision, your loved one should formally hand over their driver’s license and seek to obtain a state-issued identification card of another kind. Their options may vary, according to the state they live in.

You may also want to talk to them about giving their car to another family member or selling it, as well as cancelling their insurance. After all, the monetary savings may be a big plus for them, especially if they might use the money saved to fund alternative modes of transportation