Knowing When To Stop Driving, is it Time?
Deciding when to stop driving is very difficult for many seniors. We are a generation that has experienced mobility and independence at a very early age. For many aging adults, driving is freedom to go as we please and not to have to depend on anyone. We are also a generation of impatient individuals that wants what they want, when they want it, and does not want to wait for someone else to get it for us. Giving up driving means more than just giving up the keys to our car, it is giving a part of a lifestyle. Giving up driving, for the aging adult means giving up the world beyond the home that they have created. But there comes a time when our independence and mobility are on a crash course with concerns about personal and public safety. How do we know when to stop driving?
Many times, the aging adult starts to slowly change their driving habits on their own. They decrease or stop driving at night. Then they stop driving on freeways and avoiding rush hour and only drive on familiar routes. Some begin to limit their driving to grocery shopping, church, day time social functions and doctors’ appointments. Eventually there comes a time when there is a fine line between personal mobility and the safety of others. Knowing when that time is means knowing when to stop driving.
Aging adults realize that there will come a time when they will have to give up the keys or they believe that they will know when the time is right and when to stop driving. Time passes, denial sets in and before you know it, the aging adult is on a collision course for disaster. If you are an adult child of an aging parent, you too may have been in denial because having this conversation is just too difficult.
The other question that goes along with addressing retiring from driving is the nagging question of ‘how will the aging adult remain mobile in a car dependent society?’ This is of major concern to those that live in the suburbs, and is even more of a concern for those that live in rural areas.
So how do you know when to stop driving, or when it is time for your parents to give up the keys and retire from driving?
To help you decide, ask:
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should think seriously about whether or not you are still a safe driver. If you answered no to all these questions, don't forget to have your eyes and ears checked regularly. Talk to your doctor about any changes to your health that could affect your ability to drive safely. Review these questions frequently.
- Do other drivers often honk at me?
- Have I had some accidents, even "fender benders"?
- Do I get lost, even on roads I know?
- Do cars or people walking seem to appear out of nowhere?
- Have family, friends, or my doctor said they are worried about my driving?
- Am I driving less these days because I am not as sure about my driving as I used to be?
If you are an adult child of an aging parent, one way to assess their driving skills is to get into the car with them and go for a spin. Observe their driving skills. Do not start the conversation with the aging adult while driving.
Be aware that a single occurrence of poor driving usually is not enough reason for a person to stop driving. It does however, trigger the need for increased monitoring. Warning signs of problems include: decrease in confidence while driving, drawing "honks" from others, incorrect signaling, failure to notice traffic signs, near misses and delayed response to unexpected situations.
Take time to discuss that a medical check up to assess the hearing and a visit to an eye doctor may make the difference. Perhaps a change in glasses or a hearing aid may help compensate for any difficulties they may presently having with their driving.
When discussing anything with the aging adult, always approach topics with “I” using “I feel”, “I’ve noticed” “I fear”… are ways to start a conversation without sounding accusing or demanding. Avoid negative and personal attacks. Try to approach retiring from driving as a positive change. Consider discussing the cost of keeping a car, insurance premiums and the price of gas. Try to focus on these things versus drawing attention to decreasing abilities and the inability to no longer be a safe on the road.
Do research on state laws regarding older drivers. Call the Department of Motor Vehicles and see if they require a retesting of drivers when they reach a certain age. Can you request that a notice to assess the aging adult be sent out to them if you have a concern about their driving ability? Does your state have a graduated or limited license that excludes driving at nighttime? This may be a first step into transitioning to giving up their full license later.
Encourage the aging adult driver to take the AARP’s 55 ALIVE Mature Driving Program and/or the AAA course for seniors. Make the aging adult driver aware that there may be a financial incentive for taking these courses, as the insurance company make give a discount on their insurance premium may spark an interest in taking the course.
Men are the most difficult and reluctant to give up their keys. Many men have a bond and a love relationship with cars that is difficult for women to understand. So it is important to approach the topic of when to stop driving and giving up the keys to the car carefully but with confidence. Have solutions to the problems that arise from not having a car. It is important that the aging adult not feel as if you are trying to isolate them or expect them to change their social life.
Try taking the approach that your dad/mom has always cared for you and protected you from harm and would never intentionally hurt someone. Continuing to drive he may hurt himself or one of his loved one’s. It may be a time to let them know that you feel it is no longer safe for his/ her spouse, friends or grandchildren to be in the car with them. Be prepared to tell him you will not allow yourself or your children to get in the car with him/her.
Remember driving is a privilege. If all your attempts fail, it is your duty to report the aging adult driver to the authorities. You cannot ignore that an unsafe driver can affect the lives of many innocent and unsuspecting individuals. Taking away the keys or doing something to keep the car from starting will not be enough. There are plenty of resourceful aging adults that will call the auto shop or car dealer and overcome any obstacle to drive. If the authorities have to take away a driver’s license, be prepared for an unhappy driver. Stopping driving is emotionally devastating to the aging adult. For many it marks the beginning of the end. Many would rather choose isolation in their homes than to ask for a ride.
This is a very tough issue to address. If you live in an urban area, accessible and affordable transportation may not be an issue. The majority of aging adults, are not supported through this process, and experience emotional, social and monetary loss. These losses can include feeling a loss of social status and spontaneity. There is an increase in planning and waiting time. Often, a non-driving individual feels that he or she must always plan around the schedule of others.
Trips are increasingly taken out of necessity rather than for social reasons. These feelings can make asking family and friends for transportation incredibly difficult and the aging adult feels increasingly isolated.
This may be especially true when the aging adult has always been independent and self-sufficient. Such individuals often feel that requesting a ride as a favor is an imposition. Most caregivers would like their loved ones to feel comfortable requesting transportation. Providing such transportation makes demands on caregivers’ time and money.
The types of alternate transportation available in your community will depend on the location and structure of the community. Unfortunately for some aging adults, some of the same skills and abilities that are associated with driving are required for the safe use of many alternate transportation methods.
If you are a retired driver or the adult children of a retired driver, take the time and get on the phone call to learn about all the options so they may stay active. Start by contacting your local Area on Aging and the Department of Health and Human Services and your local church and religious organizations. There are transportation services available for individuals that do not have private transportation and who are unable to utilize public transportation to meet their needs.
There are also numerous volunteer programs available that offer friendly visitor services and rides. Assisting the aging adult to stay active mentally, physically, and emotionally will do more to promote their well being more than any medicine could accomplish.