Elderly individuals may be reluctant to give up driving, as they believe it means also giving up their independence. The end of driving doesn’t need to be the end of your loved one’s independence, as many other transportation options are available. But how do you know when it’s time to hang up the keys for good?
While many elderly individuals can continue to drive, aging can have negative effects on driving abilities.
Some of the effects of aging that can affect your loved one’s ability to drive are:
- Slowed response times
- Worsened memory
- Decreased vision and hearing
- Reduced ability to focus
- Drowsiness due to medications
- Decreased mobility
If you notice signs of declining driving ability in your loved one, it may be necessary to discuss changes in skill and safety. There are many possible signs to be on the lookout for, and the presence of a single sign is not necessarily reason enough to remove your loved one from the road.
Several of these signs together, or a few serious incidents, can be a sign that your loved one has become a safety concern for themselves and others on the road.
Some of the signs family members and friends can look for are:
- Driving at inappropriate speeds
- Not seeing pedestrians or other drivers
- Getting lost in familiar areas
- Having multiple near accidents
- Becoming easily frustrated
- Appearing drowsy or confused
- Failure to yield
- Drifting across lanes or running into curbs
- Forgetting to turn headlights on when necessary
- Difficulty driving at night due to glare
- Ignoring or disobeying street signs and traffic lights
- Difficulty driving at dusk or dawn
- Ignoring signs of mechanical problems
Depending on the state in which you or your loved one live, there may be different license renewal regulations in place to keep unsafe older drivers out of the driver’s seat.
Some states require elderly drivers to renew their licenses more often, take a vision test at every renewal, and/or require renewal in person in order to ensure the individual appears able to drive.
All state departments of motor vehicles, highway safety, or transportation have an office in which a family member or doctor may make a referral about an unsafe driver. The state office investigates the claim and the driver may be required to pass a road test in order to continue driving.
If you believe your loved one is a danger to themselves and others on the road, but they refuse to give up their license, this reporting system can be used in an effort to get them off the road.
If your loved one is still able to drive, but has difficulty in certain driving situations, it can be helpful to adapt or restrict their driving in order for them and others on the road to remain safe.
Some possible adaptations that could benefit your loved one are:
- Driving with a passenger
- Avoiding freeways and high traffic areas
- Driving only in familiar areas
- Avoiding driving at night, dusk, or dawn
Because each individual ages differently, there is no universal age at which driving ability begins to decline. For some seniors, the need to stop driving may come sooner than for others, while many elderly individuals are able to continue driving throughout their lives.