While there are many road bumps to encounter as we age, few may be as difficult as re-evaluating one’s driving capabilities. A car is a powerful machine. Drivers with slowed reaction times and poor eyesight have the potential of causing havoc on the road, but so do those of any age with poor driving skills, or those who drink and drive.
According to AAA, skills necessary for driving such as vision, reflexes, flexibility, and hearing begin to deteriorate around age 55. There is an even greater loss after age 75.
Talking to senior drivers
“The main reason older drivers are hesitant to give up driving is because their license means they can be independent,” says Janice Austin, University of Kentucky Elder Care resource counselor. “At a time in their life when their aging bodies may limit them physically, a car may be one of the few ways seniors continue to feel self-sufficient.”
That’s why many find it difficult to talk to an aging family member about giving up a driver’s license. While the situation may feel overwhelming, it does not have to be that way.
“There are a number of resources, such as the AARP and AAA, that offer guidelines,” Austin says. “If a family member is hesitant to talk to an older driver about potential dangers, or the advice is not well-received, asking a physician to discuss the issue is a good alternative. Advice from a doctor is often highly regarded. Often, emphasizing potential danger to others or to themselves is a good way to approach the subject.”
Just because someone stops driving does not mean that all mobility is lost. It may be a good idea to ask the person preparing to retire from driving to list alternative methods for transportation.
Public transportation, cabs, and walking are viable options. Many senior centers and churches offer transportation alternatives. Friends and family can be recruited to provide rides.
AAA driver points
• Move into an intersection only after checking the area for pedestrians, cyclists, hazards, and other motor vehicles. Don’t allow other drivers to pressure you into sudden moves.
• Limit conversation and keep the radio volume low to minimize distractions.
• Don’t drive when you are tired, depressed, or in the grips of a strong emotion, such as anger.
• Never drink and drive. As metabolism changes with age, even one drink can make driving unsafe at any speed.
• Ensure your windshield is clean and visibility is clear. If you smoke, refrain from lighting up inside the vehicle.
ASSESSING DRIVER SKILLS
According to AAA, the following are questions to answer to determine if retiring from driving may be necessary:
• Suffered a stroke, heart attack, or diminished eyesight?
• Experienced difficulty negotiating sharp turns and intersections?
• Hesitated over right-of-way decisions or situations you once took for granted?
• Surprised by the sudden presence of other vehicles or pedestrians?
• Received negative feedback from other drivers?
• Become lost on familiar routes?
• Felt nervous or exhausted after driving?
• Been cited for traffic violations or found at fault in accidents?