Should My Senior Parents Still Be Driving?

_MG_6464If you have to ask whether your parents should still be driving, chances are good that you already know the answer. So the real question becomes how and when do you have “the talk?” Or better yet, who else could talk to them?

Adult children with parents up north will worry about how well mom and dad can handle the winter snow and ice. Those with snowbird parents will worry about the crazy busy roads all over Florida and other southern states. Really, have you ever seen all the cars (with senior drivers behind the wheel) lining both sides of Tamiami Trail along Florida’s gulf coast?

It’s easy to spot driver safety issues among anonymous drivers but no one wants to admit those problems exist in their own driving – or their parents’. Parents should be untouchable. After all, these are the people who chauffeured you and your friends around for years. They taught you to drive. You mom and dad must be great drivers, right?

When my 90-year-old dad was living 75 miles away, like many other adult children, I followed the “out of sight, out of mind” rule when it came to him driving. I assumed he was doing fine. If anything, he was taking it slow, I thought. But really? It wasn’t until his neighbors called to tell me that his driving might be a little less than safe that I started to worry.

And then, of course, my next worry was how to broach the subject with my dad. As luck would have it his license was expiring and he actually failed the eye test. I was relieved – for about 10 seconds until he informed me that the DMV said he could still get his license renewed if his eye doctor signed off on it. And that’s exactly what happened. I couldn’t believe it.

In my dad’s case, he fell and had to move to assisted living. He gave up his car (by doctor’s orders) before we had to have the driving discussion — and I was relieved!

But how do others figure it out? How do you talk to your parents about driving? Or not driving? Studies show that not only do accidents increase for senior drivers over 65, but fatal accidents are more prevalent among drivers 75 or older. So clearly, the driving decision is not one to be taken lightly.

Think of it this way – not only is your parent at risk themselves, but they might have an accident that could injure another person or an animal. That was the argument that made me want to discuss driving with my dad. I knew he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he hit a child or a dog. And neither would I if I’d had the chance to get him off the road and didn’t even try.

Start by riding a short distance with your parent and observe their driving skills. Do they go too fast or too slow? How are their reflexes? Can they see road signs ahead and the cars and pedestrians on either side? Do they know where they are and where they’re going? Do they stay in their lane? Can they stop quickly enough when the light changes color? If you answer yes to all of these questions, well, they might be a better driver than you are! There is no set age when people can no longer driver effectively, so for some it might be 70 and for others 95. Each driver is unique.

If it isn’t already too late, one strategy is to talk about driving while they’re still good drivers. It may be uncomfortable bringing up the subject but try to bring up a teachable moment and talk about it. Discuss older drivers on the news that’ve had an accident and hurt someone. Bring up a neighbor who clearly shouldn’t be driving. Or the driving mishaps of their own parents. Even if the talk is lighthearted, you’ll have made your point – and you can store their agreement in a back pocket to bring out and remind them down the road when it’s needed!

If your parents’ driving is already raising some red flags, it’s definitely time to have the talk. If you think they’re overall pretty good behind the wheel, you might want to suggest that they take a AAA or AARP senior driving course. A little refreshing of old skills may be all that’s needed.

If it’s obvious that your loved one shouldn’t be behind the wheel at all, bring up the subject gently – but NOT while either of you is driving. Don’t accuse. That will just result in their being defensive. Explain your concerns – about them as well as others. Listen to their concerns, objections and possible denials — and address each one individually.

Their biggest fear, of course, will be their loss of independence. If you’re able to drive them on errands, by all means offer. If not, do your research – find inexpensive ride ideas and a list of grocery stores and restaurants that deliver.

If they’re lucky enough to live in a senior community like Discovery Village in Florida, they can still go places and do things. Transportation – for shopping, medical appointments and other outings is available to all residents. Soon they’ll be relaxing in an air conditioned van, shaking their heads at those elderly drivers who insist on doing it their way — relieved that they no longer have to drive!

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