CPNC Home Care Blog

The Risks of Driving in Old Age (and not just on Sundays)

October 1st, 2019

We’ve all seen them. Or, rather, been behind one of them.  Sunday drivers. Those who “drive a car inexpertly, erratically, slowly or extremely cautiously,” and not always just on Sunday.  They can be from all walks of life, and even of any age.

But when “Sunday driving” rises to the level of dangerous – especially among seniors – it may be time to re-evaluate the necessity of having a car and, moreover, getting behind the wheel of that car.

Knowing When to Stop Driving Is Key

Getting older doesn’t automatically mean that you should give up driving. After all, plenty of drivers stay on the road way past the age of 55, and even into their 60’s and 70’s (or 80’s!). But with one in six American drivers now 65 or older, it’s become more important than ever to regularly monitor your driving abilities so that you know when it’s time to stop.

Health problems – from hearing or vision loss to arthritis, diabetes and dementia – are certainly factors that can hinder a senior’s ability to safely operate a vehicle. But there are other tell-tale “stop” signs to keep an eye on, including:

*Failure to yield or stop when prompted by signs or traffic lights

*Inability to recognize the right of way

*Inability to keep track of speed limits

*Forgetting to signal when turning or switching lanes

*Routinely becoming lost (especially in familiar areas)

*Inconsistent acceleration (erratic control of speeds)

*Challenges with recognizing distance between vehicles and objects

*Difficulty merging and changing lanes

*Frequent “near-misses” in which accidents almost occurred

*Road rage, anxiety and stress

More obvious signs, such as vehicle damage, frequent traffic violations and collisions may warrant more immediate intervention.

But How Do You Convince Them To Give Up The Keys?

Trying to talk someone into surrendering their independence can be super difficult. But being silent about your concerns could risk exposing your loved one to injury or even death.  So temper any awkwardness and hesitation with thoughts of safety, and when you introduce the subject try to avoid coming on too strong.

A few things to keep in mind before planning a discussion:

*If you’ve noticed erratic or sloppy driving, chances are he (or she) has, too.

*Start with a thoughtful but unobtrusive question, like “How are you doing with your driving?”

*Encourage them to discuss concerns without automatically jumping in with solutions.

*Use reflective listening to convey understanding and support.

*Last, but not least, set aside enough time for a thorough, unhurried chat.

On The Positive Side:  There Are Plenty of Alternatives

There are actually more options available for seniors who cannot – or choose not to – drive than ever. In addition to safe and affordable Public Transportation modes like busses and trains, those 65 and older are also eligible for reduced-fare Shared Ride programs, and even free local fixed-route rides courtesy of the Pennsylvania Free Transit Program. And don’t forget popular new ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, both of which are already in the Keystone State; plus one which isn’t here yet but could be eventually: SilverRide, which specifically serves older adults and people with mobility limitations.

Nervous about ride-sharing? Here are some tips to help keep you safe:

*Request your ride from indoors. Don’t linger outside alone while looking down at your phone.

*Check out your driver. Be sure that he/she has prior experience and a good rating.

*Share your whereabouts with a trusted friend or family member.

*Confirm the car, license plate and driver before getting in.

*Sit in the back seat (to decrease the chance of contact with the driver).

*Don’t discuss too much personal information with your driver.

*Know your surroundings.  That way you know your driver is taking you to the correct place.

*Never pay cash. 

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