Driving Past Your Prime – Knowing When It’s Time

Senior Driving

Is someone you know driving past their prime? Are they treating red lights like green ones, using their bumpers like pinatas or playing chicken with oncoming traffic?

Driving requires quick decision making and fast reaction times, neither of which are hallmarks of age. However, driving is also an integral ingredient of independence – you can shop, dine and visit whomever, whenever, you’d like. Taking the keys away can be a huge blow to one’s self-esteem, but more importantly to one’s lifestyle and independence – hence the resistance.

That said, hanging up the key doesn’t have to be devastating. Here’s a guide to help us understand signs of unsafe driving, how to broach the topic, and great economical alternatives (think of insurance, parking and gas savings).

Tell-tale Signs of Unsafe Driving

Knowing when someone’s driving is no longer suitable for the road – before an accident happens - is the job of family, friends, doctors and caregivers. Here are some of the warning signs to look out for:

  1. Driving below the speed limit
  2. Going through stop-signs and red lights
  3. Driving in the middle of lanes
  4. Hitting curbs
  5. Mixing up the gas and break pedals
  6. Overwhelmed at intersections and rotaries
  7. Agitated while driving
  8. Have trouble with detours
  9. Forgetting routine routes to known destinations (sign of memory impairment)
  10. Forgetting the driving destination / purpose of the drive (sign of memory impairment)
  11. Taking longer to return from drives (sign of memory impairment)

Alternatives to Driving

There are many ways to maintain one’s lifestyle after giving up the keys. Here are just a few:

  1. Deliveries: Reduce the need to drive by scheduling deliveries for some of the more frequent driving tasks like groceries, meals, pharmacy and dry cleaning.
  2. Friendly Pick-ups: Have family (kids & grand-kids), scheduled in for lifts on specified days and times. Scheduling the time and day makes it easier for everyone to plan and pencil in activities whether it be exercise at the gym, card games with friends, or meals with friends or family.
  3. Driving Service: Buy a fixed amount of pre-paid taxi chits, or engage the use of special transportation for older adults. Many community centers and/or government services offer subsidized transportation services for older adults.
  4. Public Transportation: Not ideal or possible for everyone, some folks may find public transportation quite convenient and a great way to explore the city. Check which buses or subways are in your area and which, if any, can take you to your destinations of choice.
  5. Day Trips for Older Adults: Many community centers offer organized day trips for older adults. Not only do they take groups weekly to museums and zoos, they also may take weekly trips to the mall. It’s a great and reliable opportunity to get out of the house and socialize with peers.

Having the Discussion

If you’re having trouble convincing the person to stop driving, try a few of these techniques. First, get the support of all your family members, then:

  1. Get the Support of All Your Family Members: If you anticipate significant resistance, get everyone on board with the same message. This will avoid any weak links and internal squabbles.
  2. Do Research on Driving Alternatives in Your Area: Before having the discussion, find out what driving alternatives are in your area that might dull the blow. Come to the discussion armed with a series of alternatives that will allow him/her to maintain their lifestyle and schedule activities to the maximum extent possible, as easily as possible.
  3. Enlist the Help of Others: Sometimes it helps to have someone with a little distance make the recommendation to stop driving. Ask your doctor to get involved. If your parent is really obstinate, you can have their doctor write a letter, removing that persons write to drive or forcing them to take another drivers test. Even their lawyer can get involved and let them know of the risks of not complying.
  4. Remove the Keys: If the person continues to ignore all outside interference (including the loss of their license), you may consider removing the keys, disabling the car or selling the car.