Very few moments are anticipated in life like that moment you sit behind the wheel of your first car. It is the ultimate sense of liberation and freedom. When the boomers were first taking to the streets in the 1960s, a gallon of gas cost 35 cents. My dad, who was born in 1949, tells stories of cruising all night long with just a couple dollars.
As the boomers progressed into adulthood, driving became an important component of economic independence as it allowed them to get to and from work. In addition, driving provided connection to friends, family, goods, and services. While most boomers are several years away from giving up the car keys, they may be providing care to a friend or loved one who is no longer safe to drive.
Taking the keys from a person of an advanced age is not something that should be done because they reach a certain age. Driving performance, not age, determines a person’s fitness to drive. Losing the ability to drive is associated has serious implications for the individual and their family. Not only will the person lose their ability to come and go as they choose, their family will have to coordinate transportation for the person to perform necessary tasks (e.g. medical appointments or grocery shopping).
Starting the Conversation
The talk about whether or not a loved one is safe to drive is among the most challenging. While this conversation is difficult to have, its importance cannot be over stated. There are some steps a person can take to ease this conversation.
Have the conversation before concern over a loved one’s driving emerges. The ideal situation is for a person to give up the keys before a problem occurs. Many older drivers will engage in minor acts of driving cessation. For example, they may abstain from driving when it is dark. In addition, there are programs that can help keep an older driver on the road for a longer and safer period of time. AARP’s Driver Safety Program is a national program that provides older people with skills in safe driving, self-assessment, and finding transportation alternatives. Your loved one’s insurance provider may offer a discount for participating in these courses. Please contact your insurance provider for details.
If the conversation did not happen early, the conversation may be more awkward. There are a few steps to help begin the conversation. It is important to collect information, develop a plan, and follow through.
Collecting information is the first step. This process takes a times and effort. Start with your observations. Ride along with your loved one. This ride along should occur at different times of the day and night. Do they regularly obey the rules of the road? For example, do they look both ways at stop signs, yield the right of way, stay in their lane, etc.? Are they driving within posted speed requirements? Do they routinely get lost?
What non-driving observations are you making about your loved one? Please note the signals below may indicate an illness. Please visit with your loved one’s medical provider if these symptoms are present:
- Memory issues
- Confusion or disorientation
- Reduced mobility (stiff joints)
- Difficulty walking, swallowing, hearing or following instructions
- Shortness of breath
If you lived in a different community than your loved one, it may be necessary to rely on the observations of other people in the community. Take time to connect with people who interact with your loved one on a regular basis. This person will help you develop a more accurate picture of your loved one’s driving ability.
Developing a Plan
Now that you have collected information about your loved one, it is time to develop a plan of action. What observations did you noticed about your loved one? Are they safe to drive with certain limitations? For example, did you only observe driving challenges at night? This might suggest that your loved one can continue to drive during daylight hours. Is there a correctable problem? For example, would new prescription glasses correct the issue? If the issue cannot be corrected, have other transportation options been identified?
This conversation is never an easy one to have. Be sensitive to your loved one feelings. Losing the keys may be viewed as the ultimate loss of independence.