If you’re concerned about a senior behind the wheel, it may be time for him/her to stop driving. Of course, not all seniors have trouble driving in their golden years. The ability to drive safely depends on a wide range of factors, which impact every senior differently. We’ve put together red flags for when seniors should stop driving, as well as transportation alternatives to consider.
The dangers of senior driving
Driving unsafely can put your loved one’s life at risk – as well as others on the road. Seniors are especially prone to injury and death because their bodies aren’t as strong.
Some data that highlights the dangers of senior driving include:
- Most seniors drive 7 to 10 years longer than they should.
- On average, 20 seniors are killed and 700 injured in car crashes every day (according to the CDC).
- 2/3 of seniors take five or more medications a day that could impair driving ability.
It’s clear that seniors are a vulnerable group and their ability to drive safely should be taken seriously.
Red flags for when seniors should stop driving
Age has some – but not all – to do with driving ability. There’s no recommended age cut-off for when seniors should stop driving. However, it’s key to look for red flags that may indicate a decline in driving safety. Here’s a list of factors to keep in mind.
Current driving behavior
If your loved one is showing any of these erratic behaviors, it may be time to stop driving.
- Close calls (near accidents)
- Recent driving tickets
- Nicks and dents in car
- Driving too fast/too slowly
- Hitting curbs
- Swerving or drifting into lanes
- Stressed by traffic
- Delayed response to signage
- Passengers are hesitant to get in the car
- Low confidence in general
You should also consider any physical obstacles to driving, such as:
- Currently taking medications
- Poor eyesight (and/or poor depth perception)
- Poor hearing
- Arthritis or body stiffness (i.e. slow reaction time)
Finally, don’t forget about any cognitive impairments to driving, such as:
- Inability to multitask while driving
- Confusing pedals
- Getting lost
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, these are all common red flags that a senior isn’t driving safely and should no longer be on the road.
Health conditions that complicate safe driving
You should talk to your doctor about driving with your specific health condition. Generally speaking, these are some conditions that may make driving more difficult.
- Dementia or Alzheimer’s
- Parkinson’s disease
- Poor hearing or vision
- Taking medications that may impact driving
Be sure to check with your doctor to have a better sense of how your health may influence your driving ability.
Next steps if your loved one wants to keep driving
Perhaps you feel confident in your abilities and want to keep driving in the near future. You can protect yourself by taking these safety steps. Make sure to review these actions on a regular basis, so you can continue to drive safely. This will protect yourself, as well as others on the road.
- Get a driving assessment: If you’re not certain about your driving abilities, or want to verify that you’re a safe driver, sign up for a driving assessment. You can contact your local DMV to get one.
- Take a driver improvement course: Perhaps you want to keep driving, but could benefit from a driving course to brush up on your skills. The AARP and AAA offer courses designed for senior drivers.
- Adapt your vehicle to be senior-friendly: You can make driving safer by ensuring your car is outfitted with senior-friendly features. For example, consider installing a car handle to get in and out easily. You may also want a special seat cushion or seat belt.
- Get your eyes and ears checked yearly: Having good sight and hearing is essential for safe driving. Get your annual check-up to make sure you have the right prescription and aids you need to drive.
- Keep your car well-maintained: Regular maintenance is a must for senior drivers. Get the brakes checked regularly and keep the window/headlights clean.
By taking these steps, you’ll be better prepared to stay safe when you hit the road.
Next steps if your loved one should stop driving
If you’re worried about an elderly parent driving, speak up. This is especially true if you’ve noticed some of the red flags listed above. It may be time to stop driving – and your loved one may agree. Here’s what to do if you think it’s time to put on the brakes.
- Talk to your loved one: Open the conversation about driving safety. It can be a sensitive subject, especially if your loved one uses the car frequently. Approach the subject with compassion and express how worried you are. Suggest alternatives or next steps that seem reasonable.
- When in doubt, get a driving assessment: If your loved one is vehemently opposed, see you can convince him/her to get a driving assessment. This is a good way to get an independent evaluation about whether he/she is a safe driver or not.
- Report an unsafe driver: In worse case scenarios, where you think safety is at risk, you can also report an unsafe driver. It’s best to talk to your loved one instead and have them hand over the keys, but if you need to, you can report drivers – sometimes even anonymously.
Ideally, you should try to talk to your loved one before taking any drastic steps. You may find out that he/she feels the same way and wants to stop driving.
How to adjust to life without driving
It’s not easy to give up the independence of driving. However, there are amazing benefits when seniors stop driving. For many, quality of life actually increases.
We’ll go over some alternatives to driving below, but in the meantime, here are some things you can do to help your senior adjust to life without a car.
- Make sure your loved one has a good cell phone plan, so he/she can easily contact you.
- Save a taxi number to your loved one’s speed dial.
- Download a rider app like Uber and explain how to use it.
- Download a grocery delivery app and explain how to use it.
- Check public transportation lines and do a run-through by riding the bus/train with your loved one.
- Discuss current housing arrangements and whether a retirement community such as a CCRC (where nearly all services are available on-site) may be a good option.
These are just some initial ways to start making your loved one’s life easier in their later years.
Alternative transportation options
You may be surprised to learn there are a number of alternatives to driving that are cheap, convenient and safe for seniors. These transportation options can prevent seniors from becoming isolated or cut-off from their errands, outings, friends and family.
- Supplemental Transportation Programs for Seniors (STPs): These local programs offer free community-based transportation services for seniors. They’re run by volunteers and paid by grants/donations. Because they’re designed for seniors, they provide excellent transit services, especially in urban areas.
- Paratransit services: ADA-sponsored Paratransit services are intended for disabled seniors. They vary greatly according to location, but offer wheelchair-friendly van/microbus service.
- Senior-discounted public transportation: Public transit is often quite affordable and more so with a senior discount. Check your local transit system to find out what lines may work and the discounts offered to seniors.
- Other volunteer driver programs: You may find charity or faith-based volunteer driver programs that offer occasional or regular transportation assistance to seniors. They’re often free, but may not be as organized and reliable as other services.
- GoGoGrandparent: If your loved one isn’t tech-savvy, he/she may benefit from the “Uber for seniors.” GoGoGrandparent is a ride service that can be ordered on a cell phone dial pad. Numbers and locations can be set up ahead of time, so seniors don’t need to use an app. (Plus, GoGo updates can be automatically sent to family members to keep track of the grandparent’s location.) While this is a private service, it’s pretty affordable and lets seniors stay independent.
- Home aide and driver: You might also consider hiring a home aide and driver who can come over a few times a week. This can be a regular weekly schedule with the same aide, so that your loved one feels comfortable.
Senior transportation tips
Seniors who are just starting to use transportation alternatives may need some extra help at first. You can do a run-through of public transit, for example, so that he/she feels confident. Or you can come with him/her when trying out GoGoGrandparent for the first time. It’s important for seniors to feel safe.
Seniors traveling alone should also exercise caution. Some tips include:
- Watch you step in/out of the car/bus/train.
- Don’t nap on public transit.
- Don’t overload yourself with bags.
- Use priority seating – it’s designated for seniors like you!
- Have your fare ready in an easy-to-reach pocket.
- Prepare to exit in advance so that you have time to get to the door.
- Consider carrying pepper spray in case of emergency.
On the whole, public transport and other alternatives are quite safe. Once your loved one gets the hang of it, he/she may even enjoy coming/going without the stress of driving.
Ultimately, driving can be a dangerous activity for seniors. If you notice any of the red flags, it may be time to discuss alternatives to driving. Senior transportation options can even boost quality of life and ensure your loved one stays safe.