The ability to drive is often associated with freedom, so for senior drivers, losing that ability can feel like losing part of their independence. There are ways to get an objective view of your parent’s driving abilities, such as taking a DMV test for seniors or an AARP senior driving course, but you may want to consider other options if you fear for their safety.
So, when should older adults stop driving? Age alone isn’t a predictor. Here are five signs it may be time for your parent to stop driving.
1. Altered driving behavior
Has Dad stopped driving long distances, even though he loves his annual road trip? Is he reluctant to drive at night or in bad weather? Has Mom been in an accident or had a few close calls? Do they miss important street signs and signals or seem “on edge” while driving?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it could be an indication that your parent no longer feels comfortable behind the wheel.
2. Impaired hearing or vision
Has your parent complained about poor vision, or do they seem hard of hearing lately? Good vision and hearing are critical for safe driving.
Aside from the natural decline in eyesight that comes with aging, a number of eye conditions can also hinder an older adult’s ability to focus and use their peripheral vision to detect pedestrians, traffic lights and other vehicles. Hearing impairment may make it difficult to detect external cues such as sirens or a car horn.
3. Slower reaction time
Safe driving requires quick thinking and the ability to multi-task. Similar to vision and hearing impairment, cognitive decline is a common sign of aging. Even mild memory impairment can hinder your parent’s ability to quickly react to unexpected scenarios, such as having to brake suddenly or swerve to avoid a collision.
4. Medical conditions
Discomfort from arthritis can cause older adults to restrict their movements, which could impair their ability to drive safely. Seniors driving with joint pain may find it difficult to fasten a seat belt, glance over the shoulder to assess traffic and even securely grip the steering wheel.
Memory impairment – especially Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia – can also affect driving abilities. Can Mom remember where the grocery store is? Does she routinely get lost or miss turns?
5. Medication usage
While prescription medications can improve the quality of life, they can also put older adults at risk. Certain medications may have side effects that impair driving. If Mom or Dad had a recent prescription change, check the labels for warnings and ask their doctor about possible drug interactions.
Next steps and tips for safe driving for seniors
To gain a firsthand experience of your parent’s driving ability, offer to ride along with them the next time they run an errand. Take note of the signs mentioned above, and discuss with another caregiver or family member to see if they have noticed anything of concern.
Perhaps preparing for and taking a driving test can help your parent re-establish habits that make them feel safer on the road. Search for AARP senior driving course locations if you and your parent agree to pursue this option.
Lastly, ask your mom or dad if they still feel comfortable driving. If you have specific concerns, tell them what you noticed and suggest a checkup with their physician. Regular doctors’ visits can be scheduled to assess your parent’s vision, hearing and any medical conditions that could impact driving safety.