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Q: How can I tell if it’s time for my 78-year-old mother to stop driving?
A: Getting behind the wheel of a car and taking off—even if it’s just to go to the grocery store—spells independence for most of us, and it’s not likely to be something your mother will give up easily. But at a certain point, her continuing to drive may no longer be safe, for her or for others.
Because everyone ages differently, there are no hard-and-fast rules for deciding when someone is “too old” to drive. But there are certain telltale signs of deteriorating driving skills that could help you determine whether your mother should think about arranging for a different way to get around town.
Are her reaction times slowing down? As we age, we can be slower to spot vehicles pulling into traffic from side streets. It also may take longer to notice when cars in front of us are slowing down or stopping.
Is she becoming overly cautious in traffic? Older drivers may tend to go more slowly on highways and take extra time when merging into traffic or changing lanes.
Does she sometimes seem distracted while driving? She may be having difficulty recognizing or keeping track of road signs, traffic signals, pedestrians and unexpected occurrences on the road. If cognitive problems develop, some older drivers may even become lost in familiar surroundings.
Come prepared to suggest alternative methods of transportation, so that she doesn’t feel isolated if she does agree to stop driving.
Are her physical capabilities changing? Failing eyesight, diminished hearing or limited range of motion can all affect driving skills. Neck pain or stiffness reduces a driver’s ability to check the car’s blind spots. Leg pain may make it harder to move quickly between gas and brake pedals. And deteriorating arm strength may cause difficulty in steering.
If you begin to see a consistent pattern of changes like these, it may be time for you and your family to sit down with your mother and have that difficult talk you’ve all probably been avoiding. Share your concern for her safety, and come prepared to suggest alternative methods of transportation, so that she doesn’t feel isolated if she does agree to stop driving. Is there a community van service that she can use? Could family members or a neighbor help out on a regular basis? Is a ridesharing service in the budget? Be sure to remind her that you’re acting out of love and concern for her well-being.
For more tips on how to talk to loved ones about driving and helping them maintain their independence, download my whitepaper, "Older Adults and Driving Safety: Opening a Vital Dialogue with Aging Family Members."