Many of us will visit aging aging parents or other loved ones in Florida for the holidays. If you do not live nearby, this may be one of your few opportunities to assess first-hand how they are getting along and if they could use some help. Hopefully you will find that everything is fine. On the other hand, you might spot some red flags.
One common red flag is driving. Although seniors tend to adjust their driving habits to their limitations (for example, driving only in daytime), and drivers 80+ must take an eye examination in person, neither guarantees that someone is a safe driver. The aging process can still take a toll. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety finds that older drivers, in contrast to younger ones, are more likely to be involved in intersection crashes. Older drivers’ most common error is failing to yield of way.
How To Evaluate Your Loved One’s Driving Ability
During your visit, ask your relative to take you out for a drive. Ask to go to a location that he/she is familiar with, and one that is unfamiliar. Ask to go on different types of roads. Does the driver:
- Buckle up?
- Stay in the correct lane?
- Use turn signals?
- Handle turns well or clip corners?
- Maintain a safe distance from other vehicles?
- Notice and obey traffic signals?
- Stay in the correct lane?
- Obey speed limits?
- Appear alert, aware and demonstrate appropriate reflexes?
- Also take a look at your parent’s car. If you see many dings and dents, this might signal that your parents is getting into a fair share of fender benders and minor accidents. Also, do you know if your parents has received any driving citations recently?
If You See Red Flags
If you observe that his/her driving may not be up to par, there are several steps you can take:
Have A Conversation
Just mentioning the possibility of giving up the car keys or reducing driving can trigger an older person’s fear of losing independence. That can translate into resistance and conflict. Also, remember that if it’s your parent, this is someone who has spent a lifetime taking care of you; being on the opposite side of that equation makes many parents profoundly uncomfortable. With all this in mind, the conversation you initiate about driving must always be approached as a discussion, never a demand. Exercise the utmost respect and sensitivity.
Express what you have observed and ask for their input. Share your concerns about their safety and the safety of pedestrians and other drivers. Ask if he/she has had a checkup for eyesight and hearing, and if they have not, you might want to offer to schedule those appointments, or even accompany them to the appointments if possible. Also inquire about whether they are taking any medications that could impair their reflexes.
Despite your good intentions, your parent or other relative may not be receptive to the discussion. If that happens, consider enlisting the help of siblings, other relatives, a physician, clergy. The best case scenario is if the driver independently concludes that something must be done. “Something” does not necessarily mean giving up driving entirely. For example, the driver may agree with your suggestion that driving will only be to certain stores, avoiding rush hour, staying off highways, etc.
There are also other resources, noted below, that you can suggest that can help maintain or improve an elderly driver’s safety on the road:
Suggest Safe Driving Courses
Mention to the older driver that there are safe driving programs geared specifically to seniors. Successful completion can reduce auto insurance premiums. Courses are offered by a number of different organizations. The Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles maintains a list of available programs.
Explore Alternative Transportation Options
A chief reason people are so reluctant to give up driving, even when they recognize the risk, is fear they will have no way to get around. Some communities offer transportation for residents, but there are other options as well:
- Home Aide or Driver. You can help hire someone to come as needed, or make weekly visits to take the non-driving person to the grocery, salon, etc.
- Ride in Sight: Enter the driver’s state and county and this website provides local transportation options.
- Uber or Lyft: If your loved one has a smart phone, this is an easy fix, although if it’s the person’s first experience with this app, you will want to spend some time demonstrating its use. Also, Uber recently introduced a service that allows a ride to be arranged over the phone, without using the app. The phone number is 833-USE-UBER. But even if calling and not using the app, your parent will still need a mobile phone to receive texts confirming the ride.
- The website care.com has a search page on which you can enter a person’sy zip code to see what kind of transportation is available in the area. You will have to create an account. Go to https://www.care.com/app/enrollment/seeker/sc/help-type and scroll down to transportation.
Remind Your Loved One That A Driver’s License Is Not Needed For Identification
Many people think a driver’s license is the only possible form of official identification. Not so: Florida non-drivers can get a photo ID card that functions just like a driver’s license and is accepted at airports and everywhere photo ID is required. A person can secure this ID card at any DMV office. To find the closest DMV office, click here or call (850) 617‐2000.
Think About Bringing In A Driver Rehabilitation Specialist
Did you know there are accredited professionals who evaluate a person’s driving, can make suggestions to improve it, and can even recommend special adaptations to a vehicle? You can find a specialist at the website of the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists. Click here.
What If None Of The Above Works And Your Elderly Loved One Insists on Driving?
Hopefully an in-depth and respectful discussion will resolve the situation. It is also possible that your concerns will be dismissed and your suggestions rejected. If this occurs and you truly feel that the person is an imminent threat to himself or others, you may have to take additional steps.
File An Anonymous Report
Florida has a process whereby you can anonymously report suspicions about an unsafe driver to the DMV. The DMV will investigate. It may ask your parent’s doctor to provide an evaluation or ask your parent to undergo additional testing. To file a report, click here.
Honesty May Not Be The Best Policy
If you are convinced that your loved one is a danger to him/herself or others and refuses to stay out of the car, you may have no choice but to consider other approaches. You are no doubt reluctant to be heavy-handed, but these last resorts may be the only way to prevent someone from being hurt:
- Take away the keys
- Disable the car. You can find vehicle disablers online, some of which can be controlled remotely.
- Take in the car for repairs – and leave it there.
If your loved one is showing signs of cognitive impairment, your actions may even go unnoticed. On the other hand, you may become the target of his/her anger, so be prepared for that.
Giving up or modifying driving is a sensitive and often traumatic issue for most drivers. We hope this information will be useful for both older individuals and their families.