Seniors and Driving: When is it Time to Give Up the Keys?

Driving is a right of passage when we’re young and becomes one again, though often not one we want, when we are older.

Older drivers enjoy the freedom and sense of independence it gives them. However, for many family caregivers driving is a major source of concern about senior loved ones.

When is it time for caregivers to step in and put a stop to mom or dad from driving? Will our senior’s doctor tell us when it is unsafe for mom to keep driving?

Having open conversations between seniors and their adult children over time will help make the transition from driver to passenger less difficult. The best question to ask is not how old should a person be before they stop driving but how safe are they driving – it’s about ability not age.

How do you know things may be getting unsafe? Look for warning signs to help you and your family decide when the time is right for senior loved ones to give up the keys.

Warning Signs of Unsafe Driving

  1. Distracted when driving.
  2. Scrapes or dents in the car, mailbox or garage. Hitting the curb while driving. Frequent “near misses” with other cars or objects.
  3. Can’t turn around to take a look or when backing up. Aging can cause impairments in vision, strength, and flexibility, making some tasks while driving more difficult.
  4. Failing to notice or obey traffic signs or lights.
  5. Riding on the brake.
  6. Turning corners with difficulty.
  7. Everyone else is honking their horns at your senior.
  8. Difficulty parking the car.
  9. Driving in the wrong lane or not staying in their own lane.
  10. Getting lost and unable to easily find the way home.
  11. Getting the gas and brake pedal confused.
  12. Getting a ticket or getting into an accident.
  13. Not stopping at one or more stop lights.
  14. Stopping in traffic for no reason.
  15. Driving makes your senior agitated.
  16. They can’t drive without a co-pilot.

Some of these points (from The Hartford insurance company) in isolation may not reflect a problem requiring action but high frequency and/or severity of incidents may be a call to action by loved ones.

We all want to help our seniors maintain their independence as long as possible. If seniors are able to stay physically healthy, learn to adjust to age related changes and use a car that is safe, they may be able to drive longer. Defensive driver classes are available to help your senior be reminded of safe practices. But remember, the presence of these warning signs could result in harm to your seniors and others on the road. Difficulty driving can occur quickly so be alert to these warning signs to help your family decide if mom and pop should still be behind the wheel.

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