Older Americans are healthier and more active than in the past. People over 65 are also the fastest-growing population in the U.S. By 2030, there will be more than 70 million people age 65+, with 85–90 percent of them licensed to drive.
With the exception of teenagers, seniors also have the highest death rate per mile driven. As we age, our ability to drive safely is affected by natural changes to our bodies over time, frailty and medical conditions.
Driving ability is not age-related and goes beyond being able to physically operate a car. It requires physical and cognitive capabilities, driving skills and good driving behavior.
Here are some warning signs to watch out for if you’re concerned about an elderly loved one’s ability to drive safely:
- Slow or no response to unexpected situations
- Becoming easily distracted
- Having trouble staying or moving into the correct lane of traffic
- Hitting curbs or getting scrapes/dents on the car
- Driving too fast or too slow for road conditions
- Decrease in confidence about driving
- Changes in eyesight
Starting a conversation about safe driving with an older driver, especially a parent, is difficult. You may be afraid of offending, angering or alienating them.
While there is no simple way to address the subject, there are steps you can take if you want to preserve their personal freedom and mobility:
- Communicate respectfully and openly. Avoid making generalizations about older drivers or jumping to conclusions about your loved one’s abilities behind the wheel. Be positive, supportive and focus on ways to help keep them safe.
- Avoid an intervention. Keep the discussion between you and the older driver. Having the whole family join the conversation could anger and possibly alienate the loved one you’re trying to help.
- Make privacy a priority. Always ask for permission to speak with an older driver’s doctors, friends or neighbors about their driving behavior.
- Never make assumptions. Don’t assume that an older driver should be stopped from driving altogether. Focus on the facts you’ve witnessed yourself, or other information available to you, such as an obvious physical impairment or medical condition that could make driving unsafe. Be positive and focus on your loved one’s safety and that of others on the road.
Think clearly and get support
While there are natural changes that occur in our brains and bodies as we age, the question of when it’s time to stop driving is not about a person’s chronological age. It’s about their ability to drive. Observing the driving of your loved one and looking for warning signs is a great first step. Most importantly, decisions about driving should be made on a case-by-case basis.
If you’d like more information, here are some here additional resources about this sensitive topic.
National Safety Council: https://www.nsc.org/road/safety-topics/older-adult-drivers