Do you remember the exhilarating feeling you had when you got your license and the keys to your first car? There was a sense of freedom that came with the fact that now you could do what you wanted – when you wanted. However, with that freedom also came the responsibility of keeping you, your passengers, and all those around you safe by being a safe driver. This applies to all drivers, including our aging loved ones. According to the Department of Transportation, more than 586 older adult drivers (aged 65+) are injured every day in a car crash. If you have an aging loved one that drives, use the information below to help evaluate if they are OK to drive in order to keep them and those around them safe.
Are Older Adults Safer Drivers?
This has a mixed answer. Yes, older adults often are safer drivers because of their experience, and the likelihood that they will wear their seat belts, drive the speed limit (or slower), and typically do not drink and drive (AAA). On the other hand, older adults are more susceptible to injury due to age-related vulnerabilities and, in some cases, take more medication that may impair driving. The AAA also reports that, “Although Americans are healthier and living longer than ever before, seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of 7 to 10 years.”
How To Tell If It Is Safe For Your Aging Loved One to Drive
Everyone wants to maintain the freedom to drive but in some circumstances it may be unsafe. To help determine this, use the tips below to evaluate the situation:
Monitor Behavior and Ability
You should monitor and evaluate the behavior and ability to drive by looking for the following changes or scenarios:
- Frequently getting lost (in particular in familiar locations)
- Seeming tense and easily distracted when driving
- A lack of awareness of normal traffic signs (i.e. stop sign, traffic light, etc.)
- Increasing reluctance (or avoidance) to drive at night
- Odd damage to the car that is out-of-the-ordinary
If you have noticed any of these changes in behavior, then it may be unsafe for your aging loved one to drive.
Give Them a Driving Test
Conduct a driving test if you have noticed any changes in behavior or ability and want additional verification. You can do this without them knowing by trying the following:
- Pick a common destination and agree on the directions
- Ask to get back home by taking a different route
- Monitor the speed limit, street signs, and signals
- Ask questions after the trip to see if they remember the route and other information
Consider Vision, Physical, Medication, or Other Limitations
You will want to check if your aging loved one has:
- Taken medication that can impair cognitive ability
- Physical or mobility limitations preventing them from quickly braking or accelerating the car
- Eyesight or hearing limitations
- A chronic condition or disease that impacts their memory, movement, or other critical abilities needed to drive
If after reviewing the information above you think your aging loved one is unsafe to drive, you should discuss with your physician and schedule a professional driving assessment. The AAA offers a professional assessment to help get specialized training, evaluation, and advice. This is a real concern and one you should not push off until it is too late.