We can all agree that driving represents independence. Being able to get into our car and drive anywhere at any time means freedom and control. Growing older does not necessarily mean that your loved ones’ driving days are over; however, it does mean that their driving skills will inevitably deteriorate and they will eventually lose the ability to drive safely.
For the most part, changes to your loved ones’ safe driving will occur slowly and over time. Therefore, it is not surprising that your loved ones (and even caregivers / family members) are unaware of this decline. Even if you don’t yet have concerns, caregivers / family members should regularly go for a ride with and/or follow their loved ones while driving, and observe any warning signs, such as the following:
- Forgetting to wear a seat belt or turn on headlights
- Difficulty seeing or reading road signs
- Difficulty following and staying within lane markings
- Difficulty driving the posted speed limit
- Difficulty parking
- Delayed reaction to changing traffic conditions.
If there are concerns, it is important to share and discuss them with your loved one, because several factors can affect their safe driving. These factors include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Visual/hearing impairment
- Functional conditions
- Physical limitations
- Cognitive conditions
- Medical conditions
It is important to encourage your loved ones to speak with their health care providers to assess whether or not their medical history, medications, and current health conditions are impairing their driving, and whether or not there is a medical treatment or an intervention that could possibly improve their driving.
Additionally, caregivers and family members can encourage their loved ones to take a driving test with a driver rehabilitation specialist who can assess, provide strategies, and recommend modifications or special equipment to help your loved one drive more safely.
It is understandable that some caregivers and family members are reluctant to have this conversation, because it is sensitive and emotional topic that can either be met with acceptance, resistance, or denial.
The Hartford’s “We Need to Talk” series of guidebooks and their article titled "Family Conversations with Older Drivers" are resources that can help you prepare to have this conversation with your loved one.
For more information and resources regarding this topic, please visit the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles website.