December is Motor Vehicle Safety Month, a good time to address a tough but important question: is your loved one too old to drive?
For many seniors, losing one’s license doesn’t just mean losing one’s ability to get around. Driving is symbolic of personal freedom and independence to many: lose it, and you’re relinquishing some control over your life.
Earlier this year, AAA conducted a study that concluded that 89 percent of drivers 65 and older reported that losing their driver’s license would be a huge problem. But although seniors only account for about nine percent of the population, they are responsible for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities, and 17 percent of all pedestrian fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. So how do you know when you’re loved one’s driving skills have become bad enough to mean it’s time to get them off the road?
Use this checklist to help you determine if your loved one is getting too old to drive safely:
- Vision: Conditions like cataracts and glaucoma, common among the elderly, can worsen eyesight and make driving dangerous. If you’re worried about vision changes, make your loved one an appointment with an eye doctor.
- Strength and Dexterity: Older drivers may no longer have the motor skills to handle the wheel and brakes. If your loved one is no longer physically active and has trouble with tasks around the house, he or she may no longer have the physical ability to drive.
- Dementia: If your loved one suffers from any level of dementia, driving is not a good idea. People with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia can suddenly lapse into an episode in which they are not fit to drive. Even if they seem perfectly lucid most of the time, driving is not worth the risk.
- Medications: Read the labels on your loved one’s medication, and ask your doctor or pharmacist about potentially problematic drug interactions to find out if your loved one shouldn’t be driving while on his or her medications.
- Accidents: Has your loved one had one or two minor fender-benders in the recent past? Look into what caused those accidents; if it’s any of the above, consider them a warning sign to get your loved one another means of transportation before a more serious accident occurs.
- Confidence: Some seniors are simply no longer confident in their driving skills, but are too proud to admit it. Sit your loved one down for a caring but frank talk about whether they feels driving is still safe. It’s always best if the decision not to drive comes from your loved one, rather than from you.
If you and your loved one decide that your loved one should no longer be driving, remind them that just because the driving days are over doesn’t mean the days of freedom and independence are over too. Look over local bus routes together, or discuss carpooling with a neighbor to help your loved one see that he or she can still run errands and visit friends and family.
Have you recently had to decide whether a loved one was too old to drive? Share your experience in the comments.
For more information, please review our Aging & Driving Resources.