Millions of Americans have a loved one over the age of 70. With one in five Americans caring for an older relative, the number of adults concerned about their parents’ driving abilities is on the rise. According to a survey conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab and The Hartford, one out of 10 adults is worried about their elderly family members being on the road.
The key question that has to be asked: When do you pull the keys? It is not an issue to take lightly. Today, the automobile has become so ingrained in our culture that taking away a person’s ability to drive severely hampers his or her opportunity to interact with others and provide themselves with necessities like food and clothing. At the same time, continuing to give driving privileges to a person whose driving skills have significantly deteriorated can have tragic consequences. Simply discussing driving issues with a close relative can be stressful and contentious.
Concerns about the driving ability of an aging loved one need to be examined seriously
“We understand that talking to a parent about their driving can be very difficult,” said Jodi Olshevski, gerontologist at The Hartford. “If you’re worried, you should find out if your concerns are valid. Learn the warning signs, get in the car and observe the older driver. Once you get the facts and educate yourself about the resources available, you will be in a better position to help.”
Red flags that point to waning driving ability may vary. Some of the less serious issues may be resolved by changing driving behavior or improving physical fitness, while the more serious behaviors may require immediate action — like telling your loved one that they can never drive again.
“Making a single minor driving mistake doesn’t mean that a person needs to stop driving,” said Lisa D’Ambrosio, a research scientist at MIT AgeLab. “What families need to do is look for patterns of warning signs and for an increase in frequency and severity of the warning signs.”
Here are 20 key warning signs of deteriorating driving skills, ranked from minor to serious:
Feels less confident while driving
Has difficulty turning to see when backing up
Easily distracted while driving
Honked at by other drivers on the road
Hits curbs often
Scrapes or dents car, mailbox or garage
Experiences increased agitation or irritation while driving
Fails to notice traffic signs or important activity on the side of the road
Has trouble navigating turns
Uses bad judgment when making left turns
Does not respond to unexpected situations quickly enough
Moves into wrong lane or has difficulty maintaining lane position
Gets confused at exits
Has been ticketed or given warnings for moving violations
Gets lost in familiar places
Has been involved in a car accident
Stops in traffic for no apparent reason
If someone in your family exhibits some of these behaviors, especially those on the lower, more severe end of the scale, you need to come to terms with the issue before a tragedy occurs. To help families prepare for and initiate thoughtful conversations, AARP offers “We Need to Talk,” a free course that helps family members to understand the emotional connection to driving, observe their loved ones’ driving skills and plan the conversation.