If you are an older adult or have seniors in your family, you may wonder about the safety of senior citizen driving. Although some states require vision or knowledge tests for a drivers license, there are no uniform national requirements. Until a senior has an accident or incident, often family members and caregivers have no idea the senior shouldn’t be driving.
This quandary is only growing at present, as more baby boomers pass into senior status. Here’s an in-depth look at the issue to help you decide when is a safe time for senior citizens to stop driving. Learn about the issues surrounding senior driving.
Why Seniors Want to Keep Driving
If you have already broached the subject of driving with a senior or even thought about it yourself, you’ve probably encountered many of the reasons why seniors want to keep driving.
The number one reason most seniors want to stay behind the wheel is to maintain a sense of independence. Relying on others to go to the grocery store, the library, and the health club gets to be a drag. Being able to drive allows many seniors to live on their own and even age in place in their long-time family homes.
For seniors who are active socially, driving is key. Having a car lets them go out to eat, go to activities, and visit friends at their homes. Seniors who are still dating may feel unable to continue doing so without a car. No longer being able to drive can make seniors feel isolated and lonely.
Not Being a Burden
Many seniors worry about being a burden to their friends and family. Asking for rides because they no longer drive can add to that concern and make some seniors feel embarrassed or ashamed. Rather than trouble someone to get groceries or go to the doctor, many seniors will go without the food they need or forego important healthcare.
The Dangers of Driving for Some Seniors
The problem is many seniors shouldn’t be driving. While it may seem like a minor issue, bad senior driving can result in a host of serious consequences.
Higher Accident Rates
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the risk of car accidents increases as drivers age. This is due to many factors, including:
- Poorer vision
- Decreased reaction time
- Increased physical weakness
- Effects of medications
- Age-related health conditions
In 2017, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 6,784 deaths in people over age 65 due to motor vehicle accidents. This made up nearly 20 percent of all traffic accident fatalities.
Seniors begin to be involved in more fatal crashes from age 70 on, and those over the age of 85 have the highest rate of automobile accident fatalities. Some of this has to do with the types of crashes seniors are involved in.
Additionally, seniors have greater fragility when they are involved in a crash and cannot withstand injuries that younger people recover from. Sometimes, a health incident occurs, like a stroke or heart attack, that causes the accident in the first place.
Danger to Passengers
Senior drivers aren’t just a danger to themselves. If you are driving with a senior who shouldn’t be behind the wheel, you may be putting yourself at risk. Grandkids and other children could be in danger too.
Hazards to Pedestrians, Other Vehicles, and Property
There are multiple stories in the news every month about seniors who hit pedestrians. This can happen due to:
- Failure to stop in time at crosswalks
- Missing stoplights or stop signs
- Major health incident while driving
- Sedation or other effects of medications
- Blurred vision or failure to see pedestrians
- Mistaking the sidewalk for the road
- Not seeing or misinterpreting street signs
- Inability to react quickly enough when a pedestrian is at fault
Often these accidents also involve serious damage to property, such as when a driver runs up on the sidewalk, strikes pedestrians, and then drives through a storefront window or hits a pole.
Of course, senior drivers can also pose a risk to drivers and their passengers in other vehicles. Driving in the wrong lane, toward oncoming highway traffic, or the incorrect way down a one-way street are all common accident scenarios involving seniors, as well as driving too slowly or driving too close to other cars.
How to Tell It’s Time to Turn in the Keys
Age alone should not be a factor in determining whether or not a senior should keep driving. Some seniors can continue to drive in their 90s, while others should stop in their 60s or 70s.
There are dozens of signs that it may be time for a senior to turn in their drivers license. If you notice any of these, it could mean it’s time to talk to the senior in your life about no longer driving, or to stop driving yourself if you are the senior behind the wheel.
- Driving causes agitation, fear, worry, despair, anger, or feelings of being overwhelmed.
- The senior drives too slowly for traffic.
- The driver gets lost or suddenly doesn’t remember where they are, especially in very familiar areas (observed or reported).
- There have been frequent or serious accidents.
- The senior’s vehicle has new dents, dings, or scrapes.
- The older person reports recent “close calls” where they narrowly escaped an accident or injury.
- The senior has had recent incidents involving law enforcement, such as receiving traffic tickets.
- Other drivers are constantly honking at the senior driver.
- The driver speeds unintentionally, mistaking the gas pedal for the break.
- The senior has had recent episodes of significant memory loss, confusion, dementia, or cognitive difficulties.
- The driver has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition that could cause sudden dangerous impairment, such as mini strokes (AKA TIAs or transient ischemic attacks), angina, syncope (dizziness or fainting), or seizures.
- The senior is chronically fatigued from poor sleep, medical problems, or prescription side effects.
- The driver is on medication that causes side effects that could interfere with driving, particularly sedation.
- The senior’s hearing or vision is impaired (with or without failing hearing or vision tests).
- There has been a slowdown in reaction time or a decrease in physical mobility.
- The senior’s vehicle no longer fits them well or accommodates their physical needs; driving may induce discomfort or pain.
- The driver refuses to wear their glasses, hearing devices, or safety belt, or may engage in belligerent behavior about driving safety.
- A spouse, caregiver, family member (including children), or friends report poor driving after being a passenger in the senior’s vehicle.
- The senior’s doctor or medical professional has suggested it’s time to stop driving.
Easing Into Not Driving
If you feel the need to have a discussion with someone about senior citizen driving, understand that it may be a difficult conversation. Some seniors become defensive or stubborn when confronted with their driving hazards. There may be tears, guilt, and anger involved–on both sides of the argument.
When discussing the driving issue, it’s often best to involve a neutral, knowledgeable third party, like a physician or visiting nurse, who can provide facts and offer irrefutable reasons for turning over the keys. There are many resources available to you and to healthcare providers to back up a suggestion that a senior should no longer drive.
If a senior must stop driving and is particularly reluctant, sometimes these tactics help:
- Discuss accidents in which other seniors have injured or even killed other innocent people.
- Talk about the expense of owning a vehicle: gas, maintenance, cleaning, insurance, and parking (see “Ridesharing,” below).
- Is there a family member, like a young college student, who desperately needs a car and can’t afford one? Perhaps donating the vehicle would make sense.
Sometimes a senior citizen doesn’t need to stop driving altogether. Some seniors can retain their above-mentioned independence by following certain driving rules that limit their driving without curtailing it completely. Imposing these limitations may also make it easier to convince a senior citizen to stop driving totally when the time is right. Some of these suggestions may sound familiar from dealing with teen drivers, but they work in much the same way:
- Only drive during daylight hours, never at sunrise, dusk, or after dark.
- Only drive in good weather and when the road conditions are at their best.
- Limit driving to surface streets with low speed limits–no major thoroughfares or highways.
- Reduce driving to local areas with which the senior is intimately familiar.
- The senior must promise to always wear their seat belt.
- The senior must carry a mobile phone whenever they drive in case they become lost or feel they need assistance.
- No driving distracted–no radio, CDs, or talking on the phone while driving.
- No driving while under the influence of alcohol.
- No driving while taking medications with adverse side effects, including cold and allergy medications and other sedating over-the-counter products (seniors should go over all their medications with a physician to discuss this, preferably with a family member or caretaker present).
- No driving with young children in the car.
- The senior citizen must undergo a vision and/or hearing test annually and have the approval of their healthcare provider to drive.
For seniors who can still drive but may need some extra help, there are driving courses designed specifically for seniors. These help drivers learn to deal with sudden emergencies on the road, like a child running into the street, as well as how to deal with things like merging traffic and driving in reverse.
Solutions for Seniors Who Can No Longer Drive
Once a senior citizen has to put down the car keys for good, it’s smart to have a plan in place for what comes next. Here are some potential options for seniors who still need transportation.
Assistance from Family and Friends
As discussed previously, some senior citizens are hesitant to call on family and friends for assistance getting to and from their appointments, errands, and activities. To make seniors feel comfortable about this, try to set up some rides in advance or on a regular schedule so the elder person doesn’t even need to ask for help.
Depending on where the senior lives, public transportation may be an option. However, if confusion or dementia is in the picture, they won’t be able to handle this on their own. For seniors using public transit for the first time, they may feel more comfortable doing a dry run or two with someone else first.
An option that wasn’t around for seniors even a decade ago is ridesharing. Services like Uber and Lyft can get most seniors where they need to go safely and conveniently. Review safety measures for people who have never used ridesharing before, so they know not to give out their name to anyone claiming to be a driver, for example.
If ridesharing seems expensive, think about this: for what most seniors save in car expenses and for what they might be able to make selling their vehicle, they can probably afford far more rides than they initially thought.
For some seniors, moving is the answer. Some possibilities include:
- Moving in with family
- Moving to within a block or two of family
- Moving within walking distance or a short ride to activities
The latter two options are ideal for seniors who wish to retain their independence even though they have given up driving.
Assisted Living and Senior Communities
Another answer for independent-minded seniors is to find an assisted living or senior community. These facilities offer various levels of care depending on what seniors need, so as they desire more help, it’s right there on-site for them.
In addition to help with household chores and cooking, assisted living residences often have many amenities on the property, so there’s no need to drive anywhere. At Park Terrace Senior Living, we offer independent and assisted living to meet a wide range of unique senior needs. Benefits include:
- Happy hours
- High-speed internet and premium TV
- Housekeeping, laundry, and maintenance
- Entertainment programs
- Fitness and wellness facilities
- Tennis courts, walking trails, and swimming pools
- Trained nurses and caregivers
- 24-hour security and a medical alert pendant
Most importantly, Park Terrace provides transportation to all the places seniors need to visit, like the doctor’s office and the grocery store. Between that and all the social opportunities, seniors never even miss driving!
Don’t let senior citizen driving issues become a problem. Contact Park Terrace today to learn more about how we help seniors stay independent without a car.