How to Talk to Seniors About Driving and Their Safety
Talking to an aging family member about their driving abilities can be a difficult conversation. For many people, driving represents independence, and giving up that freedom can be tough to accept. While most older adults are generally safe drivers with few accidents, some medical conditions like dementia and arthritis, as well as medication usage, can increase the risk of being involved in an accident or suffering a severe injury in a crash. Here are some warning signs it might be time for your older loved one to stop driving and some ways to address this hard topic with grace.
Is My Elderly Relative Okay to Drive? – Signs It Might Be Unsafe
There are certain times to be concerned about an older parent or grandparent driving. As your loved one ages, you might notice signs that their driving abilities are declining. You may wish to have a conversation with your loved ones about their driving if they:
- Have a medical condition that could impact their vision or ability to react quickly, such as Alzheimer’s Disease or memory loss, hearing loss, arthritis, cataracts, diabetes, glaucoma, muscular degeneration, Parkinson’s disease, sleep apnea, or if they have had a stroke
- Are taking medications that may affect their driving, such as anti-anxiety drugs, narcotics, or sleeping pills
- Have recently run any red lights or stop signs or come close to being involved in a collision
- Received a ticket for a driving violation
- Are speeding or driving well below the speed limit
- Have been in a car accident
If any of these apply to them or you simply don’t feel safe as a passenger when they’re behind the wheel, it’s time to talk. It’s normal to struggle with how to tell an elderly parent they can’t drive as well as they once did, but if you prepare ahead for the conversation and let the following ideas help guide you, you’ll feel better equipped to have this talk with them.
Decide Who Should Talk to Them
You may want to be the one who has the conversation with your aging parent or elderly relative about their driving. However, consider that your loved one may be more open to listening to someone else. When choosing who will initiate the conversation with your older family member about his or her driving, think about the relationships and personalities involved. According to a Hartford/MIT AgeLab survey, 50% of married drivers prefer to hear about driving concerns first from their spouses, and those living alone prefer to have these conversations with their doctors, adult children, or close friend. Some older adults may also be open to hearing from a sibling, adult child’s spouse, or if necessary, a police officer.
Avoid a confrontation or an intervention with the entire family. Try to keep the conversation one-on-one and pick a time of day when you believe your loved one will be most relaxed. It’s common for families to wait to have the first conversation after their family member’s driving has already deteriorated, but if it’s not too late, approach the conversation in stages versus springing it upon them suddenly. Ideally, you would begin this conversation before any issues have presented themselves and ask questions about what can be done in the future should driving become a safety concern. For example, you can ask: “How will you know when it will be time to retire from driving?”
Ask Questions and Provide Answers
Make your senior loved ones aware of their decreased driving abilities, the variety of physical changes due to health conditions or age they may be experiencing, and how their medications or sleep deprivation can affect their driving skills. Ask them questions that open up the conversation about their health and physical well-being so that you can follow up with your concerns about how that affects their driving abilities. The following questions and statements can be great conversation starters.
- “Everyone drives so fast these days. Have you had any concerns about driving recently?”
- “That was a close call the other day when we were driving. I worry about your safety.”
- “Have you noticed any changes with your driving lately?”
- “Have you recently experienced any physical changes from your medications?”
- “Have you visited the eye doctor recently? What did they say about your vision?”
Show Your Support
Let your elderly loved ones know that your goal is to make sure they’re safe and that you wish for them to remain independent for as long as possible. Avoid saying they are a dangerous driver or starting out the conversation by demanding they stop driving. Focus on the facts available to you, such as their medical condition or your first-hand experience of their unsafe driving. This will help your loved one feel more supported and understanding of the circumstances versus feeling like they are somehow at fault.
Provide Solutions & Alternative Transportation Suggestions
The best way to fix a problem is to find a solution. If your aging relative wishes to remain independent, then an alternative means of transportation will be necessary. Assess your loved one’s driving abilities and determine if they should not drive at all, or if they are able to drive in certain limited conditions, such as only during the day and not farther than a few miles from home.
If they can drive with limits in mind, consider:
- Limiting distractions while driving by turning off the radio and avoiding conversations while driving
- Avoiding driving at night and in bad weather
- Driving only in familiar places and within a certain radius of home
- Staying off expressways or busy roads when possible
If they shouldn’t drive at all, consider:
- Working out a schedule to drive your senior family member yourself
- Hiring a caretaker to assist with driving needs
- Setting up a grocery or food delivery service to help alleviate one of the reasons for driving
- Taxis, ride-share services, or other private transit organizations
- County transportation services for seniors (contact your Area Agency on Aging & Disability (AAAD) for information about available local programs)
Suggest a Driving Test for Elderly Drivers.
In some states, drivers 75 and older must take a driving test at the time of license renewal to assess the person’s driving ability. If this is not offered in your state, you can schedule a skills evaluation conducted by state-licensed and trained driving instructors, or a clinical assessment by trained occupational therapists to learn the true level and cause of a decline in driving health.
Direct Auto Insurance understands that talking to aging parents about their driving is never easy. However, with some conversation pre-planning and understanding, this talk can be successful, and you will feel better knowing that safety for your loved one has been addressed.
To protect your parents, grandparents, and any older adults you care about on the road, call 1-877-GO-DIRECT (1-877-463-4732) for a fast and free quote today! They could qualify for our Senior Citizen Discount, Military Discount, or other discounts!