As our parents get older, we sometimes have to help them manage the life changes that come with it. Often, these changes are necessary for their physical safety, as aging may bring about weakened eyesight, slower reaction time and other issues that make it harder for seniors to perform basic tasks they’ve been doing for decades – like driving a car.
The older our parents get, the more likely it is that they’ll get into a car accident when they’re behind the wheel. At some point, it may be time for seniors to turn over the keys for their own safety, and for the safety of others.
When should seniors stop driving?
The average age when seniors stop driving is 75, but there’s no fixed age when driving ability declines – every person’s situation is different. However, our mental and physical abilities tend to decrease after the age of 65. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for issues like these that could be a sign your parent may no longer be able to drive safely.
- When they have slower reaction times
- When they get distracted easily
- When they have frequent close calls and near misses while driving
- When they have trouble staying in the correct lane of traffic
- When they have difficulty making wide turns
- When they hit curbs when backing up or making right turns
- When they drive too fast or too slow for road conditions
- When their car gets dents or scratches
There’s no single sign that means your parent shouldn’t be on the road anymore, but if they consistently show one or more of these warning signs, it might be time for them to stop driving.
What should I do if I think my parent shouldn’t be driving anymore?
If you think it’s time for your parent to stop driving, here’s what you should do next.
Talk to your parent
The first step is having an honest and straightforward conversation with your parent about aging and driving. For most people, driving is a major part of maintaining independence. When you ask your parent to give that up, you’re asking them to make a major change to their lifestyle and daily routines. They may be resistant or resentful that you’re bringing up the subject at all. Here are some tips to keep in mind during your talk.
Put yourself in your parent’s position. You’re basically asking them to give up a freedom they’ve had for most of their life. No one wants to be told what they can or can’t do, even if it’s ultimately in their best interests. Be patient and understanding throughout your conversation and try not to get frustrated if your parent is dismissive about your concerns.
Stay focused on safety
Don’t lose sight of the reason you’re asking them to stop driving: safety. The chances of dying in a car accident rise sharply after the age of 65. Older adults’ bodies can’t absorb hard impacts the way they could when they were younger. Your parent has probably noticed they have more trouble recovering from falls than they used to. Injuries from a car accident would be even harder to recover from. You want your parent to stop driving because you want them to be safe.
Point out the risk to others
If your parent isn’t worried about the risk of injury to themselves, remind them that they might cause an accident that injures someone else, including a passenger in their own car. Be straightforward about your concerns: ask them how they would feel if they got into an accident with their grandchild in the car. Pointing out that they risk hurting someone they care about can sometimes be more persuasive than emphasizing their own safety.
Help them find different means of transportation
If you want your parent to stop driving, it’s only fair that you help them adapt to life without a car. Sit down with your parent and make a list of all the places they drive to: medical appointments, friends’ homes, parks, restaurants, etc. Then start looking into other ways they can get to these places and back safely.
Friends and family nearby can often help with appointments and errands. This has the added benefit of having someone keep your parent company at an age when many seniors struggle with isolation and loneliness. Consider making a shared calendar with friends and family to make scheduling rides for your parent easier.
Look into public transportation options and schedules in your parent’s neighborhood. In many areas, buses and trains can often take your parent where they need to go. This allows your parent to retain a sense of independence since they won’t have to rely on friends or family members to get around.
Help your parent get set up with rideshare services like Uber and Lyft. These companies provide more flexibility than public transit as they aren’t restricted to specific routes or times. Some of them have special programs like Uber Health that are set up specifically to offer seniors rides to their medical appointments. If your parent doesn’t have a smartphone or has trouble using the internet, make sure they write down the number for GoGo which is 1 (855) GOGO-USA. They can call this number for a ride without having to go online. If your parent lives in an area that doesn’t have a lot of rideshare drivers, look into local taxi companies.
Government services can also be a helpful resource. Medicare and Medicaid provide free or low-cost non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) for seniors. Eldercare Locator is also a great tool for finding seniors a ride to where they need to go – just type in your parent’s ZIP code to see what options are available nearby. Many areas have private, public or religious organizations that offer carpool programs and other ride services for older adults.
Reconsider what activities require your parent to leave the house
Sometimes the solution to your parent’s transportation issues may not involve them leaving home at all. Just about anything from groceries, clothes and furniture can be bought online and help reduce the number of errands your parent needs to run. For example, instead of driving to the supermarket, they can have their groceries delivered to them at home.
They also may be able to attend some of their medical appointments from home. Telehealth services allow your parent to communicate with doctors remotely online or over the phone for issues that don’t require an in-person visit, like mental health counseling, medication management and lab test and x-ray results. Many pharmacies can deliver prescriptions to your parent’s home for no added shipping costs.
Finally, you may want to start looking into independent living communities nearby. These communities allow older adults to continue living independently while having services and amenities like transportation and meals taken care of for them. Your parent will also have plenty of opportunities to socialize with neighbors and take part in community events. If you think this might be the best option for your parent, it’s time to talk with them about making the move to independent living.
Give your loved ones a safer future
Helping your parent adjust to life without a car can be challenging, but if you feel it’s no longer safe for them to be on the road, the sooner you talk to them about it, the better.