Do You Have Concerns About an Older Driver?
Are you worried about an older family member or friend driving? Recognizing the signs that an aging loved one is no longer able to drive safely is crucial.
It is most helpful if you are able to observe the person’s driving skills. If that’s not possible, look out for these signs:
- Multiple-vehicle crashes, “near misses,” and/or new dents in the car
- Two or more traffic tickets or warnings within the last 2 years; increases in car insurance premiums because of driving issues
- Comments from neighbors or friends about driving
- Anxiety about driving at night
- Health issues that might affect driving ability, including problems with vision, hearing, and/or movement
- Complaints about the speed, sudden lane changes, or actions of other drivers
- Recommendations from a doctor to modify driving habits or quit driving entirely
The next step is typically the hardest, though: how to talk to that loved one about giving up the keys. Where you might clearly see the danger of allowing an unsafe driver to continue getting behind the wheel, your elder loved one may fear the loss of their independence, ability to socialize and be a part of their community.
Here are some things that might help when having “the talk” about driving:
- Be prepared. Learn about local services to help someone who can no longer drive. Identify the person’s transportation needs.
- Avoid confrontation. Use “I” messages rather than “You” messages. For example, say, “I am concerned about your safety when you are driving,” rather than, “You’re no longer a safe driver.”
- Stick to the issue. Discuss the driver’s skills, not his or her age.
- Focus on safety and maintaining independence. Be clear that the goal is for the older driver to continue the activities he or she currently enjoys while staying safe. Offer to help the person stay independent. For example, you might say, “I’ll help you figure out how to get where you want to go if driving isn’t possible.”
- Be positive and supportive. Recognize the importance of a driver’s license to the older person. Understand that he or she may become defensive, angry, hurt, or withdrawn. You might say, “I understand that this may be upsetting” or “We’ll work together to find a solution.”
If you’re not sure whether or not an older driver is safe behind the wheel, there are experts who can help.
The Driver’s Doctors
Make sure the driver is up to date with medical and vision exams. If you have concerns that health or vision problems may be impeding his driving abilities, tell his physician or eye doctor. Be specific about any symptoms you’ve observed.
Driver Rehabilitation Specialists
A certified driver rehabilitation specialist (CDRS) is an expert — usually a driving instructor or occupational therapist — who is trained to evaluate someone’s driving abilities. A CDRS won’t hesitate to recommend driving cessation if she believes a driver is no longer safe. At the same time, she won’t tell an older person to stop driving if it’s not warranted, no matter what the caregiver wishes.
If an older driver is still safe behind the wheel but her skills could use improvement, a few sessions with a CDRS can help her break bad habits and learn new skills. A CDRS can also recommend safety devices, such as special mirrors or adaptive foot pedals.
If the CDRS concludes that an older adult is no longer safe to drive, she’ll help ease the transition by providing concrete information and support. Many driving programs and geriatric centers have such experts on staff.
To locate a CDRS in Virginia, click on this DMV link: https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/webdoc/pdf/cdrslist.pdf
Sources: National Institute on Aging and ADED (the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists