Some drivers over 50 have never looked back since they first got their licenses. They sport around town, many with the same level of driving skills that they possessed when they first hit the road. But age-related changes—reaction times, medical conditions affecting the heart, eyes, muscles, and brain, and the medicines used to treat those symptoms—can affect fitness to drive.
Many caregivers worry about the ability of their loved ones to continue driving safely. We worry about the harm they might cause to themselves and to others. So how can we assist caregivers to identify the time to stop or to limit driving?
- Watch for warning signs of diminishing abilities or unsafe driving.
- Use guidance and resources on AARP.org to conduct important "family conversations" about driving.
- Help by showing your loved ones the resources they can use to refresh their driving skills. Make sure they are aware of the current rules of the road and new car technologies.
We all want to continue driving as long as we can safely do so. We love the independence that driving represents, and we are frightened by what an end to driving could mean to our quality of life. So when family members' age-related changes begin to affect driving skills, it can be difficult to talk to them about their driving fitness.
Assess the Situation
If you are concerned that your older family member's driving skills may be diminishing, the first thing you should do is spend some time with the person in the car. Observe firsthand how he or she drives, makes decisions, and deals with different road conditions. While you're riding with your loved one, pay attention to how he or she handles being in the driver's seat.
Here are some warning signs that may indicate a problem. Does your loved one appear to be any of the following?
- Uncomfortable, nervous, or fearful
- Having difficulty staying in the travel lane
- Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps
- Not seeing the sides of the road when looking straight ahead
- Having a hard time turning around to check over the shoulder while backing up or changing lanes
- Getting honked at by other drivers
- Having trouble paying attention to traffic signals, road signs, and pavement markings
Once you've spent some time on the road and have seen some of the warning signs, take a look at your loved one's car. Talk to him or her or with other family members and friends about what's happening, and ask yourself the following:
- Can you find dents and scrapes on the car, on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs?
- Have friends and family said that they don't want to drive with Mom or Dad?
- Is your loved one living with a medical condition or taking medications that could affect the ability to handle a car safely?
- How many traffic tickets or warnings from law enforcement officers has your loved one received in the last year or two?
- Does your loved one get lost repeatedly?