Mental and physical changes that typically accompany aging can significantly diminish an elderly driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely. Unfortunately, there is no magic number that tells older people when it’s time to hand over the keys. Since aging affects each individual’s cognitive and motor skills differently, some people need to put the brakes on driving long before others might. Knowing the warning signs of an unsafe elderly driver can help family members and caregivers determine when it’s time to say when.
How Aging Affects Driving Ability
Drivers of all ages rely on the complex coordination of a variety of skills to operate a vehicle safely. As people age, physical or mental impairments can begin to develop. As a result, many elderly drivers become unable to use the necessary skills and abilities required to drive and the risk for serious, or even deadly accidents increases. A few of the effects of aging include:
- Slower reaction time
- Poor coordination
- Vision and hearing impairments
- Effects from medications
- Impaired judgment, concentration, and focus
Knowing When It’s Time to Take the Keys
Making the decision to address an elderly driver’s declining abilities is quite possibly one of the most difficult challenges caregivers face. Because driving often represents freedom, independence, and dignity, many elderly individuals become hurt, defensive or even angry when the topic of their driving abilities is brought up. Despite the possible conflict ahead, however, it is important for caregivers to recognize the signs of deteriorating driving skills and act accordingly to preserve the safety of their aging loved one and the motorists and pedestrians they share the roads with.
It may be time to consider taking the keys when older drivers disobey street signs and traffic lights, appear disoriented or confused while driving, forget where they are headed or how to get to their destination, or drift across lanes. Frequent near-misses or car crashes may also indicate that it is time to re-evaluate a driver’s abilities.
Confronting Elderly Drivers At Risk
When careful observation indicates that it may be time to confront an unsafe, elderly driver, the subject should be addressed gently. Oftentimes an older individual will be more apt to recognize the reality of the issue if the decision is left in his or her hands. If a dangerous elderly driver is unwilling to stop driving, other options like interventions from family members, doctors and even the DMV might be effective.