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Dealing with Older Drivers

Driving, to Americans, especially those of us in the suburbs, is a symbol of our independence and a necessary part of life. We want and need to keep driving as long as we can, and getting old shouldn’t stop us. But, there may come a time when you shouldn’t drive anymore. Will you know if it’s time to stop driving? Will your loved-ones be able to tell you when they see it? How will you and your family deal with your inability to drive? These are all questions you should explore and answer now before you face this difficult situation.

You must first know the signs of unsafe driving. They include: driving at inappropriate speeds (either too fast or too slow), trouble staying in your lane, problems making turns, getting lost frequently, a slower response rate, stopping for no reason, getting frequent tickets, and being easily distracted. One or two of these may not indicate a problem, if they happen infrequently, but many and frequent occurrences should make it clear that you, or your loved-one, should stop driving. The next thing you need to do is decide how to address the issue. Here are some ideas:

  • Decide on the best person to do the talking. People take things differently depending on who is delivering the message. Choices include a spouse, a doctor, adult children, a friend, an attorney, or a caregiver. You need to determine who would work best in your situation.
  • Plan what to say. This is a sensitive topic, and you need to approach it carefully. Avoid being critical and to try to be positive.
  • Get an independent driving evaluation. Contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or the American Automobile Association (AAA). They may conduct field tests to assess driving capability.
  • Report the driver to the DMV. Your state Department of Motor Vehicles, Highway Safety, or Transportation department may have an office where a family member or doctor can make a referral about an unsafe driver. The state office will investigate the claim, and take action as required.
  • If the driver has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, you may need to take extra steps. You may need to hide keys or disable the car. To prevent the driver from calling a mechanic to get the car started, you may need to place a sign under the hood to call a caregiver before fixing the car.
  • Help the unsafe driver find alternate transportation. Without a car, your loved one will need a way to get around. Planning for this ahead of time is a great idea. Many new elderly housing complexes provide transportation or are built with services within walking distance.