One memory many people have is of their first car. They remember what it was, how it drove, and the freedom they felt the first time they drove it. Our ability to drive is linked to a feeling of independence. So, talking with an aging loved one – whether it’s your parent, spouse, or other relation – about their driving is understandably a challenging conversation to have.
Driving safety is a major issue as people age, and an area where you might encounter resistance when you try to talk with your aging loved one about it. As we age, our vision, reflexes, and hearing change. These changes can impact one’s ability to drive, perhaps even making it unsafe for them or other drivers. Talking with an aging loved one about limiting or stopping driving is made even harder because the issue of driving isn’t tied to a person’s age after they get their initial driver’s license, but to their ability. Which, of course, your parent, spouse, or other relation may see their ability differently from how you see it. Plus, they most likely have decades of driving experience behind them.
When deciding if you need to talk with your aging loved one about their driving, AARP has several examples of unsafe driving actions you can take into consideration when trying to determine if your loved one is putting themselves or other drivers at risk. Some warning signs of unsafe driving include:
- Delayed response to unexpected situations.
- Becoming easily distracted while driving.
- Decrease in confidence while driving.
- Having difficulty moving into or maintaining the correct lane of traffic.
- Hitting curbs when making right turns or backing up.
- Getting scrapes or dents on car, garage, or mailbox.
- Having frequent close calls.
- Driving too fast or too slow for road conditions.
If these sound like incidents your loved one has when they’re driving, it might be time to address the issue of driving with them.
Once you have decided you need to talk with your aging loved one about their driving there is some homework you should do before this difficult conversation. These conversations can be even harder if you are talking with your aging parents about limiting or stopping driving, so preparation is key.
Get Everyone on the Same Page
Before having any difficult conversation with a loved one, it’s also important to make sure that other stakeholders in the situation are on the same page as you are. This may include siblings, other relatives, or friends. While you don’t want to overwhelm your loved one, it is important for you all to be in agreement on this issue and committed to finding potential solutions.
After you have discussed this with others involved in the situation, think about how you can gently start the conversation. One option is to ask your loved one if they feel safe driving. Perhaps they also are unsure about their ability.
Research Options and Costs
You should have transportation options and costs on hand when you begin this conversation. In today’s world there are many more options available for transportation. Services such as Uber and Lyft have opened up options beyond public transportation and taxi cabs. By collecting information on these services, including costs and availability, you’ll be able to show your loved one how affordable and easy getting around can still be. These suggestions will also help your loved one to see they won’t have to be dependent on you or other family members and friends for transportation.
Consider a Driving Safety Class
If your loved one insists on continuing to drive but you are concerned about his or her driving, consider finding a local driving safety class for older adults. In addition to providing a refresher on driving safety, they can assess your loved one’s driving and place restrictions on the license, if necessary. Restrictions may include only driving during daylight, staying within a 25-mile radius, or using a car with an automatic transmission or power steering. These may not seem so bad if the possible alternative is a total loss of driving privileges.
Enlist Third Party Help
Remind your loved one that if they have an accident while driving and an officer is called to the scene, they could have their license revoked on the spot. If driving safety is at a critical level and your loved one continues to be resistant to any suggestions, you can make an anonymous call to the state Department of Motor Vehicles and they will send someone to the home to assess your love one’s driving.
You may also want to consider a third party such as your loved one’s primary care physician. They can help with additional resources and help to facilitate the conversation about driving safety and ability with your aging loved one.
The conversation around limiting or stopping driving is a tough one. There are many emotions tied to one’s ability to drive and it’s expected that your loved one could be resistant. Your aging parent, spouse, or other relation may feel the loss of independence. It’s important to provide options and examples of how they will still be able to participate in activities they do outside of their home now. As your loved one has a lifetime of driving experience behind them, this will be a change for them. With the right preparation and information, you’ll be able to help them see that this conversation comes from a place of love and concern for them.