The desire to drive is a result of society; for decades, driving was considered a ticket to independence. It meant getting out of town, road trips with friends, adventures, and probably more than a breakdown. The generations that have become elders to Millennials, Gen Z and Gen Alpha, are heading towards their twilight and dusk years; their driving habits will dramatically decrease yearly. In many cases, elderly drivers continue to drive despite knowing they shouldn't—for decades in some cases.
Older people drive legally unless they receive too many violations, fail a driver's test, or cannot get insurance. Those who aren't causing violations, pass driver's tests regularly, and keep insurance, can drive almost indefinitely. More drivers are on the roads than ever, which means the danger level of driving has skyrocketed.
Talking to your senior relative may not be an easy task. Their caregivers see danger where they may only see freedom, independence, and adulthood in a car. Thus, “taking away” a senior’s car keys isn’t a solution; this would enrage most adults, too, as it entraps, infantilizes, and scares them. Instead, caregivers should approach the task with a helpful, understanding, and compassionate attitude.
Aging parents may have difficulty letting go of their car keys, but their caregivers still have responsibilities to them. Caregivers should note any decline in driving abilities—these can be sudden or gradual changes. Once those changes are apparent, the caregiver must speak with them about unsafe driving and negotiate for the keys when needed.
Find a Good Time and Plan Ahead
No one knows our elders quite as we do; caregivers take care of their family and learn all their little quirks. One of those quirks can be used as leverage to open the conversation about unsafe driving; everyone has days of high-energy and good moods, and caregivers should pick these days to initiate the conversation.
Introduce the topic as a light-hearted topic, and if they aren’t receptive, let it go. Part of the ‘proactive’ approach is preparing for them to dismiss or reject the subject—try again later. Additionally, if they are receptive to the idea, make sure to have done research prior; in case you need the power of numbers on your side.
Attribute Your Concern to a Health Condition and Medication
Caregivers should speak with their elders when they see changes in their driving and when health problems arise. Health conditions like cataracts, diabetes, high blood pressure, and limited range of motion are some of the possible issues. Worse, many widely-used medications cause decreased coordination and balance—and many more impair driving abilities.
What’s more worrying than a senior with health problems and medications? A senior being pulled over by police due to the side effects. Driving while taking medications with drug substances looks bad, especially when the driver is tested for the drugs, then given driving under the influence (DUI) charges.
Provide Them with Transportation Alternatives
There are many transportation alternatives in the United States: for example, the newly developed Ubers and Lyfts and traditional methods like trains and buses. None of that is considering the driving assistance of family members either. No matter where they live, some services can assist them in getting them around safely—without driving.
When the time comes to speak with them about handing over the keys, consider already having solutions for their needs. Observe the average places they go in a week, then think about solutions for as little routine disruption as possible. Having limited routine disruption is crucial for them to maintain independence and personhood.
Suggest a Driving Test for Elderly Drivers
Some drivers might be more difficult to convince than others. For these elders, consider taking them to take an elder's driving test. Those who are confident may accept and immediately see the errors of their ways, while those who reject the suggestion may consider it after a few more "close calls."
Elders can take more than just driving tests to show limited abilities. Tests like state-licensing or commercial driving tests, even clinical assessments, can reveal much information about any driver. Plus, some elders refuse to listen to anyone but their doctor—get them in on it too.
Be Encouraging and Supportive
The most important thing any caregiver can do for the elder is to be there for them. Taking care for the elders out of love and compassion; making their elders know how much they are loved and appreciated will go far in having this conversation. No elder should ever feel like they don't have a choice in whether they drive or not—so don't come in with demands. Approach it like a negotiation.
We Love Our Elders—Stop Them from Unsafe Driving
Getting elders off the road doesn’t have to be all or nothing—but the family must talk about it. Caregivers are the only people in the world that elders will listen to; it’s on them to recognize the signs of their elder’s unsafe driving and to initiate the conversation. Speaking with an aging relative about their driving abilities is never easy, but their safety is a higher priority.