With age comes wisdom. But in some cases, age also brings with it a decline in physical or mental health that can make driving difficult and unsafe. The last thing many seniors want to do is give up driving, but if a loved one is no longer driving safely, you may need to make sure he or she gives up the keys.
Seniors 70 and older made up 11 percent of all drivers in 2011, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That number has been on the rise, as the IIHS also reports that the proportion of people age 70 and over with licenses rose from 73 percent in 1997 to 79 percent in 2011.
While the fact that someone just celebrated a 70th birthday doesn’t mean he or she is doomed to cause a car accident, research shows that crash rates and insurance claims tend to start increasing during one’s golden years. According to the IIHS, the number of property damage liability claims and collision claims filed tends to rise after the age of 65, which suggests that seniors may be involved in accidents more frequently after that point.
There are certain signs that a senior may be having difficulty with driving. Naturally, if you notice erratic driving or if the person plows into the garage you should be concerned.
However, some signs might be more subtle. You should regularly inspect the older driver’s car and take note of scratches and dents, suggests Andy Cohen, co-founder and chief executive officer of Caring.com, a website for caregivers of aging loved ones. If the senior can’t explain how the scratches and dents got there, that’s another red flag.
How to stop an old driver from driving
If you believe that a loved one can no longer drive safely, it’s time to broach the subject. “It’s a very difficult conversation because in the United States a car equals independence,” Cohen says. In fact, a Caring.com survey found that seniors were more comfortable talking to their adult children about their funerals than they were about driving.
To make the conversation go more smoothly:
Start the discussion before there’s a problem. Rarely will a senior readily give up his or her car keys after one discussion about the need to stop driving. Talk to aging relatives about what should happen if their driving becomes impaired. Be patient and plan to pick up the conversation multiple times.
Provide alternatives. Many seniors fear that they will lose their ability to get around once they stop driving. When broaching the subject, give them alternatives such as senior transport services, public transportation or your willingness to chauffeur them around.
5 steps to stop an older driver from driving
Ideally, the conversation will eventually end with the senior realizing he or she needs to stop driving, but that’s not always how it turns out.
If the older driver refuses to stop driving, here are five steps you can take.
1. Enlist the help of professionals. Some adult children ask their pastors or rabbis to speak to their parents, Cohen says. Social workers who specialize in helping families care for older relatives can also help facilitate the conversation.
2. Know your state’s driving laws. Some states require more frequent testing of drivers once they get to be a certain age. For example, in California drivers over the age of 70 must appear in person to take a vision test and in some cases may be asked to take a written and driving test as well, when renewing their license, says Artemio Armenta, a spokesman for the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
3. Contact your state’s department of motor vehicles. There are procedures that allow people to report older drivers that appear to be incompetent to drive. “In Virginia, we have what is called the Medical Review Process, which allows someone -- police, medical professional, relative, friend, etc. -- to report someone they believe is an impaired driver,” says Sunni Brown, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Some states, such as California, even let you report the person anonymously, which is helpful if you’re worried about how reporting the person could impact the relationship, Armenta adds.
4. Consult with the older driver’s doctor. Depending on where you live, certain medical conditions may prohibit an older driver from driving. For example, in the state of Oregon, physicians and other health care providers are required by law to report to the DMV anyone who has certain impairments -- such as involuntary muscle movements or limited mobility in the arms and legs -- that make it unsafe for them to operate a car. If you attend doctor’s visits with an aging parent, ask the doctor for his or her medical opinion of the patient’s driving ability.
5. Set up a conservatorship. If all else fails you can set up a conservatorship, which is a legal process in which you convince a judge that the senior is incapable of making his or her own decisions. This is often a necessary step if a senior has Alzheimer’s disease. If the judge agrees, a guardian would be appointed to make decisions on the senior’s behalf, and that guardian could legally take the car keys away from the older driver.
Throughout the process of getting an older person to stop driving, seniors should be treated with patience, understanding and respect. After all, the goal isn’t to take away their freedom. “We want to keep folks driving as long as they can safely do so,” Armenta says.