As we age, it is normal for our driving abilities to change. This isn’t to say that we need to automatically keep our family members from driving when they get “too old.” It just means that we should pay attention to any warning signs that age could be interfering with our driving abilities and make appropriate adjustments to protect every driver on the road.
Did you know older adults are more likely to receive traffic citations and get into accidents than younger drivers? In fact, fatal crash rates rise sharply after a driver has reached the age of 70. The cause for this increase: As we age, factors such as decreased vision, impaired hearing, or slowed motor reflexes may become a problem. Other contributing factors such as chronic conditions that will gradually worsen with time or even adjusting to a sudden change like a stroke may lead to problems with driving.
Examples of what comes with age and how it could affect our elder family member’s driving are:
- Pain or stiffness in your neck can make it harder to look over your shoulder to change lanes or look left and right at intersections to check for other traffic or pedestrians.
- Leg pain can make it difficult to move your foot from the gas to the brake pedal.
- Diminished arm strength can make it hard to turn the steering wheel quickly and effectively.
- As reaction times also slow down with age, you may be slower to spot vehicles emerging from side streets and driveways, or to realize that the vehicle ahead of you has slowed or stopped.
- Keeping track of so many road signs, signals, and markings, as well as all the other traffic and pedestrians, can also become more difficult as you lose the ability to effectively divide your attention between multiple activities.
Difficulties could arise if you bring these worries forward to someone in your family who may be showing signs of age affecting their driving. Driving provides a sense of freedom, just as in teenagers. If you think that taking away a parent’s or grandparent’s vehicle, they may think you are against them, not looking out for their safety. Some examples for those of you concerned for a loved one who is aging and wish to discuss this sensitive issue with them would be:
- Be respectful. For many seniors, driving is an integral part of independence. Many older adults have fond memories of getting a driver’s license. At the same time, don’t be intimidated or back down if you have a true concern.
- Give specific examples. It’s easier to tune out generalizations like “You just can’t drive safely anymore.” Outline concerns that you have noticed, such as “You have a harder time turning your head than you used to,” or “You braked suddenly at stop signs three times the last time we drove.”
- Find strength in numbers. If more than one family member or close friend has noticed, it’s less likely to be taken as nagging. A loved one may also listen to a more impartial party, such as a doctor or driving specialist.
- Help find alternatives. The person may be so used to driving that they have never considered alternatives. You can offer concrete help, such as researching transportation options or offering rides when possible. If your family member is reluctant to ask for help, it can lead to isolation and depression.
- Understand the difficulty of the transition. Your loved one may experience a profound sense of loss having given up driving. Don’t dismiss their feelings but try to help with the transition as much as possible. If it is safe, try slowly transitioning the senior out of driving to give them time to adjust. For example, your loved one may begin the transition by no longer driving at night or on the freeways, or by using a shuttle service to specific appointments, such as the doctor’s.
It is about the safety of others, the drivers and their family alike, do not let pride be the cause for any needless and dangerous driving.
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