Seniors and Safe Driving
As we age, it is important to ensure our safety, and the safety of others, when we are driving. If you are concerned about your own driving or worried about a friend or loved one, keep an eye out for these warning signs:
Problems with reflexes and range of motion. Can you react quickly if you need to brake suddenly or quickly look back to change lanes? Are you able to comfortably turn your head to look back over your shoulder, or is it impossible? Have you confused the gas and brake pedals? Slower reflexes and challenges in determining distances may be a warning sign that it is time to leave the driving to others.
Problems with memory. Do you find yourself getting lost frequently while driving? While everyone has an occasional lapse of memory, and takes a wrong turn, if you continue to have problems with getting to your destination, it’s time to get evaluated by a doctor.
Medications. Certain medications or combinations of medications can affect your senses and reflexes. Always check the label on medications and double check with your healthcare team if you are taking several medications or notice a difference after starting a new medication.
Eyesight problems. Some eye conditions or medications can interfere with your ability to focus your peripheral vision, or cause you to experience extra sensitivity to light, trouble seeing in the dark, or blurred vision. Are you able to easily see traffic lights and street signs? Do you find yourself driving slower and slower in an effort to see the lights or signs? Challenges with eyesight are a grave concern for driver’s.
Hearing problems. You may not realize you’re missing out on important cues to drive safely if your hearing is decreasing. Are you able to hear emergency sirens, the honking of a horn, or the motorcycle beside you?
Health challenges do not always mean that driving needs to stop, but they do require extra vigilance, awareness, and a willingness to take the steps needed to ensure safety of all.
Adjusting to life without a car may be challenging at first; most likely, you’ve been driving your whole life and it feels like quite a shock. It’s normal to be frustrated, angry, or irritable. However, it takes a lot of courage to stop driving and put the safety of yourself and others first.
Driver safety is usually a sensitive issue for older drivers. A driver’s license is a symbol of freedom and self-sufficiency. Understandably, driving is not a privilege that anyone wants to relinquish willingly. Still, safety must come first.
Many older drivers may be aware of their faltering ability but still be reluctant to give up driving completely. Another person’s concerns may force the senior driver to act. They may even feel relieved to have someone else help make the decision to stop driving. If you find yourself in the position of talking to an older friend or family member about their driving, remember the following:
Be respectful. For many seniors, driving is an important part of independence. Many of us have fond memories of getting a driver’s license. At the same time, don’t be intimidated or back down if you have a true concern.
Give specific examples. It’s easier to tune out generalizations like “You just can’t drive safely anymore.” Outline concerns you have noticed, such as “You have a harder time turning your head than you used to,” or “You braked suddenly at stop lights three different times when we rode together last week.”
Find strength in numbers. If more than one family member or close friend has noticed, it’s less likely to be taken as nagging. A loved one may also listen to a more impartial party, such as a doctor or driving specialist.
Help find alternatives. The person may be so used to driving they have never considered alternatives. You can offer assistance, such as researching transportation options or offering rides when possible. If your family member is reluctant to ask for help, it can lead to isolation and depression.
Understand the difficulty of the transition. Your loved one may experience a profound sense of loss having given up driving. Don’t dismiss their feelings but try to help with the transition as much as possible. If it is safe, try slowly transitioning the senior out of driving to give them time to adjust. For example, a Senior may begin the transition by no longer driving at night, or on the freeways, or by using a shuttle service to specific appointments, such as the doctor’s.