Many families worry about aging relatives who drive, and wonder how long they can continue safely driving the car. The aging process and health issues - including the effects of medications - may diminish many faculties crucial for safe driving, including vision, reflexes, and memory. However, everyone ages differently, and some people drive safely into their 80s and 90s.
The statistics tell a disturbing story. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2007, older people accounted for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 19 percent of all pedestrian fatalities. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports, "Older drivers with cognitive and visual impairments may be most at risk because many are not aware of or do not recognize their impairment."
Driver Involvement in Fatal Crashes and Pedestrian Fatalities in the Older Population by Age Group, 2008
|Drivers involved in Fatal Crashes||1,592||1,321||1,116||858||682||5,569|
Source: NHTSA's National Center for Statistics and Analysis
Although seniors view driving as a key element of their independence, when their safety and that of other people on the road is at risk, it may be time for family members to make hard choices.
Warning signs to look for
Family and caregivers of a senior driver should be on the alert for the following signs that driving is no longer safe for them:
- Diminished vision or attentiveness; not noticing traffic lights, road signs, other cars, or pedestrians
- Getting lost or becoming confused about familiar routes and landmarks
- Reckless driving, such as driving over a pavement or into objects
- Having accidents and near misses
- Slowing of reflexes or physical impairment (such as arthritis) interfering with driving skills
What to do when you are concerned about a senior driver
- Begin by talking gently with the senior, pointing out reasons why you are concerned about their driving and offering alternative means of transportation. This may involve compiling a list of family members, neighbors, and volunteers who are willing to drive the senior to shopping, doctors, and social activities.
- Bring up your concerns to the senior’s physician, who can assist with medical assessments and the appropriate level of intervention.
- In urgent cases, physically removing the keys or the vehicle itself may be necessary. Alternatives must be provided to ensure the senior can still get to appointments and run errands.
If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.