Warning Signs a Senior Shouldn't Be Driving

4 signs you may need to take away the keys.

senior driving behind the wheel

Wondering at what point you should have a conversation with your parent or aging loved one about their driving abilities? Is it time to take away the keys? There are a number of issues you should take into account. It would be a lot easier if we could just assign an age when people are no longer safe drivers, but as a group, seniors are relatively safe. They've got years of experience behind the wheel and they tend to self-regulate when and how much they drive.

Jody Gastfriend, LICSW and VP of Care Management at Care.com lists the following considerations for deciding if it is safe for your loved one to continue driving. (If needed, get tips on talking to your parent about driving.)

  • Health status. There are various medical conditions that can decrease a person's ability to drive safely. For example, arthritis can affect a person's ability to move and notice obstacles when switching lanes or backing out of a parking spot. Dementia can decrease a person's ability to obey the laws of the road and increase the likelihood of getting lost. If you're getting concerned, schedule an appointment for your senior and a trusted physician and call ahead of time to let the doctor know what you're worried about. When you attend the appointment, you can discuss whether your senior is considered healthy enough to drive safely.
  • Medications. Some medications can have side effects which make it unsafe for a senior to drive. Make sure you ask the doctor about potential side effects of medication before your senior begins taking it. And if your senior is taking medication that would cause him to be unsafe without -- consider strategies to prevent medication errors. You might even want to count the number of pills to ensure they've been taken on a regular basis.
  • Recent driving record. Have there been fender-benders, near misses, or unexplained bumps and scratches on the car? These can be warning signs that your parent's driving abilities are not what they should be.
  • Observable differences. If you can, arrange to be in the car while your loved one is driving. Observation of your parent's abilities is one of the better ways to evaluate if it is time to have a discussion. Keep an eye out for errors with signaling, difficulty turning, driving at inappropriate speeds (too fast or too slow), increased agitation or irritation, failure to stop at a stop sign or red light, and delayed response to unanticipated situations.

Consider this: Your senior doesn't have to take an all or nothing approach. It is possible to safely drive on local roads at speeds under 45 miles per hour, while avoiding long distances on the highway. This is an example of self-regulating one's driving.

Additionally, there are tests that can evaluate a person's ability to operate a car. A driving assessment may be available at the local Department of Motor Vehicles, rehabilitation center, Veterans Administration medical center, or hospital. According to the Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., these evaluations usually cost between $200 and $500 and are rarely covered by insurance, but it may be well worth the expense.

If you are unsure whether it is time to speak with your parent about driving, ask yourself how comfortable you feel with your parent driving other people. If you do not want them driving grandchildren, it is probably time to have a conversation.

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