When It’s Time to Take Away the Car Keys

Taking the keys away from Dad
As we age, it is normal for our driving abilities to change, and factors such as decreased vision, impaired hearing, and slowed motor reflexes may become a problem.  The effects of aging can result in a reduction of strength, coordination, and flexibility, which can impact the ability of a senior citizen to safely control a car.According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, senior citizens age 80 and over have the highest rate of fatal crashes per mile driven.  Also, elderly drivers are more likely than a younger driver to be at fault in an accident in which they are involved.Everyone ages differently, so there is no specific age or cutoff as to when a senior should stop driving.  However, we should be aware of the warning signs that an elderly loved one may be unsafe on the road:

  1. Eyesight problems that can interfere with peripheral vision, cause trouble seeing in the dark, hypersensitivity to light, or blurred vision.
  2. Hearing problems that can cause a senior to not hear emergency sirens, or the honking of a horn.
  3. Memory and concentration issues causing a senior to miss an exit, or become disoriented or lost on familiar routes
  4. Poor reflexes and range of motion, which can result in slower reaction time, and confusing the brake pedal with the gas pedal.
  5. Medications which can cause drowsy side effects.
  6. Inability to maintain speed, and/or stay in the lane.
  7. If an elderly person seems uneasy when driving in bad weather, or at night.
  8. Drives too quickly or too slowly
  9. Fails to obey traffic signals and signs.
  10. Has had warnings or tickets due to poor driving
  11. Has caused an accident or had a close call.

The ability to drive signifies freedom, independence, and self sufficiency to anyone, not just a senior citizen, so no one would want to willingly give up that privilege.  Older drivers may be aware of their decreased ability to safely navigate the roads, but are reluctant to give up driving completely.   Many times, it is a family member who will voice their concerns, and in many cases, will remove the car and the keys, making it impossible for the senior to drive.

If you feel that it may be time for your loved one to limit or stop driving, here are some tips to consider when approaching the situation:

  • Be respectful and understanding of your loved ones feelings.  He/she may be losing an integral part of their independence.
  •  Give examples, and don’t generalize.  Point out specific instances you have noticed where your loved one was unsafe.  For example, “You ran that red light yesterday because you were not paying attention,” or “When you were driving home from the park, you were confused about whether to turn left or right onto your own street.”
  •  If other family members or close friends have noticed the problem, involve them in the conversation.
  •  Involve the senior’s physician.  A doctor can discuss the risks of aging drivers, yet remain impartial and avoid speaking out of emotion.
  •  Discuss alternatives.  Before you open the discussion, research driving alternatives, such as car pools, ride sharing, public transportation, senior shuttle services, and taxi cabs.  Professional in-home caregivers can take over the driving and let the senior enjoy having their own “private driver”.
  •  If appropriate, discuss the possibility of limiting driving to daylight hours only, and not during traffic hours or bad weather.

Sometimes an older driver will still refuse to give up the car keys.  If your are concerned about the safety or your senior loved one, or that he or she could injure or kill someone else on the road, you can make an anonymous report to the Motor Vehicle Administration.  The Medical Advisory Board will thoroughly investigate, and see if the senior citizen should in fact give up driving.

Resources concerning the elderly and driving:

Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration

AAA Senior Driving

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety


Photo by Chris_Short