Hit the Brakes!: When is it Time to Stop Driving?

Grandpa is turning 80 next month.  Does that mean we should take away his keys?  Would it be better to give him a couple more years and have him turn over his license at 85?  90?  When is the appropriate time for our loved ones to stop driving?  Believe it or not, age does not solely determine when a person should stop driving; Rather, it should also be based on their abilities.  There is no reason that a specific birthday should dictate whether or not a person is still safe behind the wheel.  If you find yourself beginning to question whether they should still be driving, you may want to give the idea some careful consideration.  Here are some warning signs, or red flags, to help navigate the sensitive decision of when our elderly loved ones should turn off the ignition… for good.

General Health

Certain health conditions or a new diagnosis may be the deciding factor for whether your loved one should be behind the wheel.  If they are experiencing a notable decline in their ability to hear and/or see, you should have the discussion with their physician if it is a significant impairment to their driving.  Both senses are crucial to being able to safely navigate the roads and may be the determining factor that it’s time to hand over the keys.

Prescribed medications may also play a role in a person’s ability to drive.  If your loved one is taking a medication that causes drowsiness or dizziness, they should not be behind the wheel.  Warning labels are added to prescription bottles if they can affect your driving abilities and put you in an unsafe situation.

Other health concerns, like diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, may prohibit an individual from being able to safely navigate the roads.  If you have any concerns about your loved one and their medical conditions playing a role in their driving abilities, it’s best to have these open conversations with their doctor.

Behavior Outside of the Vehicle

If you find that your loved one is often forgetful, clumsy, easily distracted, or slow to react in everyday situations, then chances are these traits are also carried over on the roadways.  Have them drive you to the store or another spot close to home and note their abilities behind the wheel.  Are they showing signs of confusion when they approach a stop sign or traffic light?  Are they having difficulty remaining in their lane or switching to another lane?  Can they maintain an appropriate speed limit?  Are their reactions delayed?  Can they easily navigate their way to the designated destination?  Do they seem frustrated or are they exhibiting signs of road rage?  Are fellow drivers continuously honking at them?  Is the right-of-way being recognized and honored?  Have they experienced any “near misses”?  If any of these concerns arise, it’s probably time to have the difficult conversation with them.

Observe Their Vehicle

A quick walk around their car may reveal a lot about their driving abilities.  If you notice new scratches, bumps, or dents on their vehicle, it may be time to park the car… indefinitely.  These are often signs that our loved one is distracted while driving, experiencing slow reaction times, misjudging distance, or having difficulty seeing what’s around them.  Such instances can cause minor mishaps such as turning too sharply and hitting a curb, running into a mailbox when driving down the street or turning into a driveway, scraping alongside the garage while trying to park the car, or bumping other vehicles when parking in a parking lot.  However, it can also result in more serious accidents that can cause harm or injury to your loved ones or others on the road.  Observe their vehicle and look for any signs that may raise a red flag.

Lacking Confidence

Sometimes our loved ones will show worry and concern about driving in certain locations, at specific times, or in adverse weather conditions.  While it’s natural to have reservations about the safety of the roads, it may be a concern if they are becoming more and more fearful of driving.  If this is the case, encourage them to “go with their gut”.  Set limitations to when and where they will drive.  For instance, your loved one may choose not to drive after dark, in the rain, or long distances.  They should keep their driving experiences within their comfort level, as well as within their abilities.

Driving comes with a sense of freedom and independence.  Having that taken away can be a huge, but also necessary, change.  Help set your loved one up for success as they make the transition.  Offer them alternative forms of transportation, while ensuring them that they will still be able to fulfill all of their needs, despite not being able to drive.  Help them to lean on family and friends, public transportation, private driving services, delivery services, and other resources to assist them in their day to day life.  Also, it’s a great practice to regularly check your senior loved ones home for safety concerns too!