There’s no arguing that driving is dangerous. Motor vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of death with more than 35,000 a year. As people age, driving can become even more dangerous for the driver and others on the road. While getting older alone doesn’t need to be the reason to stop driving, AAA states that since older drivers are more fragile, their fatality rates are 17 times higher than those of 25- to 64-year-olds.
Signs that it’s time to stop driving
The age that people should stop driving will vary person-to-person since how people age is so different. So how do you know if it’s time for you or your loved one to stop getting behind the wheel? Here are some questions you can ask to help with that big decision.
- Has there been an increase in the number of traffic violations or an increase in the car insurance premiums? If you’ve noticed an increase in the number of tickets that you’re received from traffic violations, this could be a result of being less cognizant of your surroundings. Sometimes it’s hard to know how much is a normal increase in violations or car accidents, so it may help to look at car insurance premiums to help you assess if you’re having more than the standard level of mishaps.
- Is there any damage to the car? While it is common to get a little ding in your car every once in a while, if there starts to be an increase in the number of scratches or dents (or even in surrounding areas like your mailbox or garage), it might be a sign that you’re having a harder time with your spatial judgement.
- Do you have a lot of “close calls?” Even if you aren’t getting into car accidents, if you find that you’re having a lot of “close calls,” you may be misreading traffic signals, signs, or the speed of other cars. There is a chance that your driving skills aren’t as sharp as they used to be and driving might be getting more dangerous.
- Has there been a significant health issue? As people age, there are sometimes significant health issues that may prevent them from being as aware as they once were when driving. As ailments such as dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, or Parkinson’s Disease progress, it often affects one’s ability to drive. Also, if someone has had a stroke or suffers from arthritis, their ability to drive may be impeded.
- Are they getting lost when driving? Just like it’s common to get a scratch on your car on occasion, we all have gotten lost when driving. However, if you notice that you’re getting lost more frequently than before -- especially in familiar locations, it may be a sign of a cognitive decline that can affect your driving ability.
- Are people honking at you when you drive? If you drive and a lot of people are honking at you, it may be because your driving skills aren’t as sharp as they were before. People often honk their horn if you’re drifting into their lane, aren’t driving with the flow of traffic, or aren’t reacting to traffic signals. An increase in this “feedback” may be a sign that you’re not as aware as you used to be and that it might be too dangerous to drive.
- Do you have any new physical limitations like range-of-motion, dexterity, eyesight, or hearing? As people age, it’s natural to have some sort of physical decline. Eyesight or hearing may not be as sharp as it once was, or reflexes are a little slower. Since driving involves the body from head to toe, the ability to drive well can be greatly affected if just one part of your body begins to decline.
- Are you on any prescription medications that would impair your senses? Many prescription drugs have side effects like drowsiness or blurred vision. Be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist to understand not only the side effects of each drug, but also how they can interact with each other.
Are you worried about your older loved one?
Often it’s a family member that is worried about their older loved one’s ability to drive. In addition to thinking about the questions above, if you’re driving with your loved one, look out for these warning signs that it might be better for them to stop driving:
- Miss traffic signals and stop or yield signs
- Slow to respond to traffic cues
- Look tense when driving
- Forget to use turn signals
- Have erratic acceleration
- Drive noticeably under or over the speed limit
- Drift into other lanes
- Hit curbs when making right turns or backing up
If you decide to stop driving, that doesn’t mean you need to be in isolation. There are ways to continue to socialize with others and maintain your independence. For example, is there a friend or family member that lives close by? If they have the same destination, they could potentially bring you as well. Also, you could check out the public transportation options in your area. Many bus and subway systems even have senior discounts, including free rides!
Also, Onward Rides provides safe rides to seniors. Not only are our drivers certified in CPR and First Aid, but they are all trained on elderly specific needs like communicating with dementia patients and how to transfer someone out of a wheelchair.
Determining when to stop driving can be a difficult decision, but it can also be a very emotional decision. Seniors often feel like they have lost their independence, and it can sometimes bring about feelings of shame or embarrassment. However, to stay safe, it’s important to continue to evaluate driving abilities.