When you love someone, it’s hard to see them put themselves or others at risk
Giving up driving can be one of the hardest decisions anyone has to make. It can be really difficult to determine the blurred line of when that last lapse of attention is the one that forces you to give up your keys. Talking to your parents or other family member about giving up driving can be equally hard. How do you tell the person who taught you how to drive that they are no longer safe to drive themselves? While these conversations can be emotionally draining, they are important to keeping those we care about safe.
We at Center for Car Donations want to help you with some advice about giving up your license or helping a family member with this life-altering decision. There are many resources available for you, which we will include in this post, and we hope to provide a springboard to get the conversation started.
How do you know when a loved one should start the process of giving up their keys? Statistics tell us that drivers over the age of 75 are at an increased risk for traffic accidents, and that number skyrockets after the age of 80. While teenagers, a group of people who are well known for risky and dangerous drivers are at risk for killing others, older people are at risk for seriously injuring or killing themselves. This is due to a number of factors, most obviously the reduced ability of older individuals to bounce back from life-threatening injuries.
This article from the online publication Slate Magazine opens with a sad story about a couple in their 90’s who passed away while holding hands after 72 years of marriage. The author also points out that they hit another car with “all the hallmarks of car accident caused by an aged driver.” This accident resulted in one of the passengers in the other car suffering a broken neck. There aren’t any state laws forcing older people to give up their license, although many states do require those over the age of 70 to renew their licenses in person, and some states have other requirements for older drivers.
New and unexplained scratches or dents can be an indicator that the driver’s attention is lapsing. Traffic tickets are also a good indicator. Listen to this NPR story about a son who called the authorities about his mother, as well as some helpful things to look for.
Taking a drive with the family member can let you know first-hand what is happening with reaction time and response to unexpected traffic conditions. If you don’t mind them driving themselves but wouldn’t put your child in the car with Grandma or Grandpa, this is probably a strong indicator that you should start the conversation with your loved one.
This website, published by the National Highway Traffic Safety administration, has some great information about determining if health factors may be impeding safety in older drivers.
- You have problems reading highway or street signs or recognizing someone you know across the street.
- You have trouble seeing lane lines and other pavement markings, curbs, medians, other vehicles and pedestrians, especially at dawn, dusk and at night
- You experience more discomfort at night from the glare of oncoming headlights.
- You have trouble looking over your shoulder to change lanes or looking left and right to check traffic at intersections.
- You have trouble moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal or turning the steering wheel.
- You have fallen down – not counting a trip or stumble – once or more in the previous year.
- You walk less than one block per day.
- You can’t raise your arms above your shoulders.
- You feel pain in your knees, legs or ankles when going up or down a flight of ten stairs.
- You feel overwhelmed by all of the signs, signals, road markings, pedestrians and vehicles that you must pay attention to at intersections.
- Gaps in traffic are harder to judge, making it more difficult to turn left at intersections or to merge with traffic when turning right.
- You take medications that make you sleepy.
- You often get lost or become confused.
- You experience dizziness, seizures or loss of consciousness.
- You aren’t confident that you can handle the demands of high speeds or heavy traffic.
- You are slow to see cars coming out of driveways and side streets or to realize that another car has slowed or stopped ahead of you.
- A friend or family member has expressed concern about your driving.
- You sometimes get lost while driving on routes that were once familiar.
- You have been pulled over by a police officer and warned about your poor driving behavior, even if you didn’t get a ticket
- You have had several moving violations, near misses or actual crashes in the last three years.
- Your doctor or other health caregiver has advised you to restrict or stop driving.
The symptoms do not mean your loved on absolutely needs to give up driving, however. There are several steps to take before giving up the keys. This list from helpguide.org can help your loved one take charge of their health.
- Getting your eyes checked every year. Make sure that corrective lenses are current. Keep the windshield, mirrors, and headlights clean, and turn brightness up on the instrument panel on your dashboard.
- Having your hearing checked annually. If hearing aids are prescribed, make sure they are worn while driving. Be careful when opening car windows, though, as drafts can sometimes impair a hearing aid’s effectiveness.
- Talking with a doctor about the effects that ailments or medications may have on your driving ability. For example, if you have glaucoma, you may find tinted eyeglass lenses useful in reducing glare.
- Sleeping well. Getting enough sleep is essential to driving well. If there are problems, try to improve nighttime sleep conditions and talk with your doctor about the effect of any sleep medications on driving.
How do you start this conversation? It is important not to rush the discussion. Find a time that is mellow and relaxed for both of you, and be prepared to have a series of smaller conversations rather than one big one. Simply putting the idea into the mind of your loved one is a great way to help them make the decision for themselves, rather than forcing them into something they don’t want to do. The AARP offers a great resource for having this conversation called “We Need to Talk.” It includes tutorials, videos, and conversation starters. Here are some basics from a caring.com:
Consider temporarily giving up the car yourself – Put yourself in their shoes by giving up driving for a few weeks before you talk to them so you can understand firsthand what they will be going through
Choose your time wisely – Aim for a quiet time of day when both you are relaxed with no impending deadlines
Handle Objections With Reflective Listening – Encourage the questions your loved one will ask without jumping in with solutions. Use what they tell you to formulate a response, such as, “I know that you’re worried that giving up driving means you will have to give up golf.”
Allow That This Process Will Take Time – This probably shouldn’t be one long conversation; rather, several smaller conversations are a better way to go. Take breaks whenever they are needed. Don’t interrupt or try to get back on track. Allow them to work through their memories.
Ask Them What They Think – Your loved one should definitely have a hand in finding a solution. Asking them may get them to consider the benefits associated with giving up driving such as saving money on maintenance, gasoline and insurance.
When beginning these conversation, remember to keep in mind the myriad of activities, as well as the feelings of security and self-reliance, you are asking your loved one to give up. The costs can be both physical and emotional, as illustrated by this article published in The Boston Globe. One thing you may not have considered is the link between driving and living on one’s own. According to a study published in 2006, “Those who had given up driving were nearly five times more likely to end up in long-term care after eight years than those who were still driving, even when researchers accounted for various health problems. They found that the seniors who had depended on another driver in the home and lost that support were nearly twice as likely to go into long-term care, as compared with elders who were still driving.”
There are many resources available to assist you with helping your loved one. Driving safety refresher courses are offered by many driving schools. Having an unbiased third-party observer can help you determine whether your loved one is not as safe of a driver as they may have once been. Check out this story from the New York Times about a family who contacted a driving rehabilitation specialist when their father’s driving habits started to concern them. Consulting one of these professionals can help assuage your fears about loved ones driving or help them make the decision for themselves that it is time to give up the keys. There are other resources available like this interactive driving evaluation from AAA. AARP offers an online driving quiz which you can take together. Compare your results – you might be surprised!
Once your loved one has given up the keys, it is important to make them feel like they are still apart of the community and the family. Check out this list from caring.com
Make it a habit to check in on them often, just to chat or share some news.
Offer to drive them to the activities they enjoy, or help find someone else who can take them.
See that they’re included in family outings, like their grandchildren’s school events or a day at the beach.
Encourage them to try taking the bus on their next trip to the pharmacy, or to walk, if it isn’t too far away, and offer to go with them if you can.
Urge them to ask for rides from friends, and to reciprocate in whatever way they can (preparing a meal, for example).
Help them develop new routines and interests that don’t require driving, like gardening, walking, or swimming at the local pool.
Knowing how they’ll get around can make the decision easier for your loved one. Check out this page from the National Institute of Health for some advice and some resources that may be available in your community. Another great resource is from NextAvenue.org where the list and describe transportation available to seniors. Here’s a few:
Curb-to-curb rides are essentially taxi services. Drivers likely will not help passengers come out of their homes, enter the car or help stow wheelchairs or walkers.
Door-to-door drivers will help a passenger navigate the street and enter and exit the vehicle, but should not be expected to help with wheelchairs because of liability concerns.
Door-through-door providers hire drivers who ensure that passengers get into their homes or destinations safely. They’ll also help carry groceries or packages.