As colder weather, snow and ice move in for a few months, driving hazards are plentiful. Is it time to bring up the topic of safe driving with elderly parents?
Driving offers independence and freedom so it can be difficult and emotional to speak with a parent about giving up driving. In fact, according to the National Safety Council’s Mature Drivers Survey, talking to an elderly parent about discontinuing to drive was often more difficult than discussing final wishes, finances, or selling a home.
So how do you know when it’s time to ask your parent to hang up their keys for good? Age alone is not a predictor but medical conditions or impaired physical or cognitive skills can play a key role. One of the best ways to determine if it’s the right time to broach the subject is to go for a ride with them and note any specific concerns.
According to AARP, there are several warning signs to be aware of:
- Frequent dings, dents and scrapes on the vehicle
- Delayed response to unexpected situations
- Getting lost, especially in familiar locations
- Becoming easily distracted or difficulty concentrating
- Having difficulty moving into or maintaining the correct lane of traffic
- Hitting curbs when making right turns or backing up
- Having frequent close calls
- Driving too fast or too slow for road conditions
If you notice any of these warning signs, it’s time to begin the conversation. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Bring up the topic when you see 1 or 2 warning signs rather than waiting for a significant event. Gradually giving up driving long distances, driving at night, or driving during rush hour are great ways to preserve some driving freedom, yet also reduces their risk of an accident.
- Be compassionate; giving up driving-e.g. one’s independence and freedom-completely changes a person’s life. Be supportive and respectful of their feelings. Give specific examples of why you are worried for their safety and for the safety of others on the road.
- Ask them to visit the DMV to take a driving and vision test to ensure that they are determined to be safe drivers according to the law. If they aren’t worried about their driving skills, they should be willing to take a simple test.
- Offer solutions and alternatives to driving. They may feel like they will be trapped in the house if they can’t drive. So, make sure you have a plan for them to get their shopping done, visit friends, get to doctor appointments, and other social events. This may include doing some chauffeuring yourself, introducing them to Uber or Lyft, helping them line up friends, using transportation services specifically designed for seniors or even showing them how to use public transportation.
- Explain to them it’s not just about them – their driving inabilities affect everyone around them including people who are on the road and whoever may be in the car with them.
With an activity as risky as driving, it’s best to be proactive and regularly assess your parent’s driving ability. Recognizing the warning signs and talking to an aging parent may not be easy, but if you start early with compassion and respect, the conversation can be successful.