Worried About Your Parents Being Elderly Drivers? How to Know When They Should Stop
Are you worried about the safety of your elderly parents driving? It’s common for adult children to start worrying about an aging parent’s driving skills.
It can, however, be tough to start that conversation. It’s a sensitive topic, especially for older adults who fear losing their independence or being seen as incapable.
Before making any assumptions, keep in mind that many older adults in their 80s and 90s are still safe drivers. But it’s also common for seniors to have vision or hearing problems. They may also have slower reactions and health conditions that make driving difficult or downright dangerous.
How to Know When Your Parents Should Stop Driving
If you ask outright, your parent probably won’t want to talk about their driving ability. You’re more likely to hear that they’re just as skilled as they were when they taught YOU to drive!
A better approach is to look for warning signs before having a discussion. That helps you know if you need to insist on talking. You will then know if there are real reasons to be worried, or if their driving skills are still going strong.
Even though age itself isn’t always a good predictor of someone’s driving skill, normal age-related changes in the body can increase the risk of having an accident. Here are some of the changes to pay attention to.
Decreased vision, impaired hearing, and slower reflexes make it harder to see, hear, and respond to other cars or pedestrians. Pain or stiffness in the neck or back make it difficult to turn and see clearly when changing lanes or checking for pedestrians. Leg pain or weakness makes it harder to switch between gas and brake pedals and press hard enough. General loss of strength can make fast, accurate steering more difficult.
Slower reaction time means taking more time to notice merging cars or responding when the car ahead slows or stops. Multi-tasking ability decreases so it’s more difficult to drive safely and keep track of road signs, signals, other cars, pedestrians, and other “normal” distractions.
To assess your parent’s driving ability, it helps to know about normal changes in the body that make driving riskier for older people. Noticing these changes will help you identify problems with their driving.
Here are 7 clear warning signs that your parent should stop driving.
Their Car Has Fresh Dents or Scrapes
A good place to start is by examining your parent’s car. Are there recent dents and scrapes? Do you see any damage on their mailbox, fence, driveway area, or garage door? If you can, try to find out if their auto insurance rates have changed or if they’ve gotten any traffic tickets or warnings.
Their Driving Habits Have Changed
Significant changes in driving habits are definite red flags. For example, are they rolling through stop signs when they used to always come to a full stop? Do they now change lanes without even glancing at their blind spot? Has a lifetime seatbelt wearer stopped buckling up?
They’re Straining to See
Being able to see well is essential to safe driving. If your parent has a vision problem like macular degeneration or glaucoma, they definitely won’t be safe behind the wheel no matter what they say.
Other issues could also interfere with their ability to see. Can they see over the steering wheel? Losing height to osteoporosis or a curved spine can make this a challenge. If they’re stiff or in pain, they might have a hard time turning to check their blind spot or rear view for lane changes or backing up.
Driving Has Become Stressful, Confusing, or Exhausting
If your parent is working hard to compensate for any physical challenges, driving can become stressful and tiring. They might also show signs of confusion, anger, or be easily distracted.
Signs that should cause concern include:
- Getting lost more easily, even in familiar areas.
- Struggling to back up or turn the car around.
- Having trouble seeing or keeping track of traffic signals, road signs, or pavement markings.
- Mixing up the gas and brake pedals or pressing them both at the same time.
- Not being able to tolerate any distractions.
- Responding slowly to unexpected situations.
- Having road rage or causing other drivers to honk.
They’re Having Close Calls
If your parent has had several narrowly missed accidents, that’s a sign that their driving skills are deteriorating. This could be happening because they’re misjudging gaps in traffic, misreading traffic signals or road signs. It could mean they are underestimating the speed of oncoming cars.
Driving at Night Makes Them Nervous
If your parent has become reluctant to drive at night, it’s a sign to pay closer attention to their overall driving skills.
Other People Are Getting Scared
If your parent’s friends or other relatives aren’t comfortable riding in their car anymore or say something to you about their driving, pay attention to those concerns. It’s not a good sign when people are too scared to ride in the car!
With an activity as risky as driving, it’s best to be proactive and regularly assess your parent’s driving ability. It can be tough to admit that they’re declining. However, it would be a terrible tragedy if they got into an accident and seriously hurt themselves or someone else.
Has your parent’s driving started to worry you? Was there a specific incident that made you stop and think “hey, there’s a problem here” or have you been noticing a gradual decline?
Connie Chow is a founder of DailyCaring.com, a website and email newsletter with free, practical caregiving tips for families caring for older adults. Her mission is to connect caregivers with trustworthy advice and resources. Connie’s insights are in The Huffington Post, BlogHer, About.com, and more. Sign up for helpful caregiving advice at DailyCaring.com.