How to Help an Older Driver
As experienced drivers grow older, changes in their vision, attention and physical abilities may cause them to drive less safely. Sometimes these changes happen so slowly that the drivers are not even aware that their driving skills have declined.
If you have questions about someone's driving safety, here's what you can do to help your older driver stay safe AND mobile.
If you have the chance, go for a ride with your loved one. Look for the following warning signs in their driving:
- Forgets to buckle up (use seat belts)
- Does not obey stop signs or traffic lights
- Fails to yield the right of way
- Drives too slowly or too quickly
- Often gets lost, even on familiar routes
- Stops at a green light or at the wrong time
- Doesn't seem to notice other cars, walkers, or bike riders on the road
- Doesn't stay in the lane
- Causes honking by others or frequently passed by other vehicles
- Reacts slowly to driving situations
- Makes poor driving decisions
- Fails to use mirrors, check for blind spots, use turn signals
- Mixes up gas and brake pedals or can no longer use them smoothly
- Too cautious or too aggressive when driving
Other signs of unsafe driving include:
- Recent near misses or fender benders
- Recent tickets for moving violations
- Comments from passengers about close calls, near misses, or not seeing other vehicles
- Accidents – especially those that were the driver's fault
- Recent increase in the car insurance premium
Riding with or following your loved one every once in a while is one way to keep track of their driving. Another way is to talk to this person's spouse or friends.
Talk to your loved one. Say that you are concerned about their driving safety, and ask if they share your concern.
- Don't bring up your concerns while driving. It's dangerous to distract the driver! Wait until they are calm and you have their full attention.
- Explain why you are concerned. Give specific reasons—for example, recent fender benders, getting lost, or running stop signs.
- Realize that your loved one may become upset or defensive. After all, driving is important for independence and self-esteem.
- If your loved one doesn't want to talk about driving at this time, bring it up again later. Your continued concern and support may help them feel more comfortable with this topic.
- Be a good listener. Take your loved one's concerns seriously.
- Consider using a brochure or notes for your discussion, like the Hartford's "We Need to Talk" brochure.
Help make plans for transportation. When your loved one is ready to talk about their driving safety, you can work together to create plans for future safety.
- Make a formal agreement about driving. In this agreement, your loved one chooses a person to tell him or her when it is no longer safe to drive. This person then agrees to help your loved one make the transition to driving retirement.
- Help create a transportation plan. Your loved one may rely less on driving if he or she has other ways to get around. Click here for more information about where to find help with transportation alternatives in your area.
Encourage a visit to the doctor or medical treatment provider. The doctor can check your loved one's medical history, list of medicines, and current health to see if any of these may be affecting their driving safety. The doctor can also provide treatment to help improve driving safety.
Encourage your loved one to take a driving test. A Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (DRS) or an Occupational Therapist (OT) can assess your loved one's driving safety through an office exam and driving test. They can also teach special techniques or suggest special equipment to help them drive more safely. Click here for a list Driver Rehabilitation Specialists and Occupational Therapists that provide service in Maryland.
At some point, your loved one may need to stop driving for their own safety and the safety of others. You and your loved one may come to this decision yourselves, or at the recommendation of their doctor, driver rehabilitation specialist, driving instructor, or Motor Vehicle Administration. When someone close to you retires from driving, there are several things you can do to make this easier:
Create a transportation plan. It's often easier for people to give up driving if they have other ways to get around. Help your loved one create a list of "tried-and-true" ride options. This list can include:
- The names and phone numbers of friends and relatives who are willing to give rides, with the days and times they are available.
- The phone number of a local taxicab company.
- Which bus or train to take to get to a specific place. Try riding with your loved one the first several times to help him or her feel more comfortable.
- The phone number for a senior transit shuttle service. Call the community center and regional transit authority to see if they offer a door-to-door shuttle service for older passengers.
- The names and phone numbers of volunteer drivers. Call the community center, church, or synagogue to see if they have a volunteer driver program.
- If you need help finding other ride options, click here for some contacts.
If your loved one can't go shopping, help them shop from home. Arrange for medicines and groceries to be delivered. Explore on-line ordering or subscribe to catalogs and "go shopping" at home. See which services make house calls—local hairdressers or barbers may be able to stop by for a home visit.
Encourage social activities. Visits with friends. Time spent at the senior center, and volunteer work are important for one's health and well-being. When creating a transportation plan, don't forget to include rides to social activities. It's especially important for your loved one to maintain social ties and keep spirits up during this time of adjustment.
Be there for your loved one. Let your loved one know that they have your support. Offer help willingly and be a good listener. This is an emotionally difficult time, and it's important to show that you care.
Source: Physician's Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers (American Medical Association and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)