How to Talk About Aging and Driving
As people age, two of the main concerns that they – and their loved ones – have are falls and driving safety. A new study has found that the two issues are linked in a way that might surprise you.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, older drivers who have a history of falling are 40 percent more likely to be involved in car accidents than their peers. This is significant because every year, about 12 million older adults will experience a fall.
This brings up a topic that is difficult for many people to discuss: Aging and driving. We take a look at how this important issue can be addressed in a way that makes it easier for everyone involved.
Why Falling May Affect Driving Ability
Researchers have found that falling affects driving safety in two ways:
1. Falls can result in a loss of functional ability that can make it difficult to drive. For example, a fall that caused a broken leg or ankle may make it difficult to brake.
2. Understandably, falling once can increase someone’s fear of falling again. This can lead to a decrease in physical activity, which weakens driving skills.
Experts recommend that falling be viewed as a potential early sign of declining physical fitness as opposed to a one-time event. When thought of in this manner, it can be easier to counter the physical effects of aging and the toll they can take.
AAA recommends that older people and their loved ones focus on fall prevention. This includes removing safety hazards from homes and starting a routine of physical exercises that improve neck, shoulder, back, and overall body flexibility.
Once a fall occurs, it may also be time to consider – and have a conversation about – driving ability.
How to Talk to Older Drivers About Driving
If you are the loved one of an elderly driver, it’s important to remember that getting older doesn’t mean that someone has to surrender their keys. It does mean that you should create a game plan for keeping driving skills up to par and for transportation alternatives if driving becomes too hazardous.
Talking about driving ability and safety is a sensitive topic. For many people, driving is a crucial part of daily life, and it brings a feeling of freedom and independence. That’s why you should carefully decide what you will say ahead of time – and put yourself in the older driver’s shoes as you plan your side of the conversation.
Here are some tips from the National Institute on Aging that may help:
- Preparation: observe your loved one’s driving skills so that you can address specific needs (trouble driving at night, for example). You should also learn about local services that can help provide transportation.
- Use “I” Statements: This will help avoid a confrontational tone. For example, instead of saying, “You shouldn’t drive anymore,” try, “I’m worried about your driving.”
- Focus on driving skills: Keep the conversation about driving skills, not the person’s age.
- Stress the importance of maintaining independence: Make it clear that you want the driver to be able to maintain their current lifestyle and activities while staying safe. Offer to help figure out how help the person remain independent.
- Be supportive: Understand that whomever you are speaking to may feel hurt or defensive. Emphasize that you will work together and be there as your loved one figures out the next steps.
Above all else, be honest. Don’t resort to tactics like hiding keys – you want keep a sense of trust in your relationship. PennDOT recommends that if the driver isn’t open to listening to your concerns, you may want to talk to their doctor to see if there are medical issues that should be reported. Their doctor may make a referral to a driving clinic.
As a last resort, some people report cases of truly dangerous drivers to PennDOT. The agency may then require the driver to take a medical or driver’s exam. Your report will be confidential, but if the person’s license is repealed or not renewed, your report may be admitted as evidence in the event of an appeal.
Is it Time to Stop Driving?
The aging process is different for everyone, and some people maintain their ability to drive safely much longer than others. That’s why there’s no set age that signals it’s time to hand over the keys. If you’re concerned about your driving ability, here are some questions you can ask yourself to see if that time has come:
- Do I get lost, even on roads that I’m familiar with?
- Do cars or pedestrians seem to appear out of nowhere?
- Is it hard to stay in my lane?
- Am I driving less because I’m not as confident in my abilities as I used to be?
- Do I have trouble moving my foot from the brake to the gas? Is it hard to remember which is which?
- Have I been pulled over by a police officer for my driving?
If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, it may be time to talk to your doctor about scheduling a driving assessment.
No matter your driving ability, it can’t hurt to take a refresher course. There are several programs that offer Mature Driver Improvement courses. There are no practical or written driving tests – the courses merely address the safety needs that come with aging. You can check the following organizations for availability and pricing:
Pennsylvania Transportation Alternatives for Older Drivers
Giving up your ability to drive can be an overwhelming, frustrating thing. The good news is that in Pennsylvania (and many other states as well), there are free options for getting where you need to be.Free Transit Program for Senior Citizens
This program enables senior citizens to ride for free on a fixed route (through bus authorities, train systems, etc.). To be eligible, you have to be 65 years of age or older.
To gain access to free transit, you need a senior citizen transit identification card which can be obtained for free by presenting a proof of age document to a local transit operator.
You can contact your local public transit agency to learn more, including schedules and hours of service.Shared-Ride Program
The Shared-Ride Program is a curb-to-curb program that operates on an on-demand basis. Eligible participants pay a fraction of the regular shared-ride fare themselves or through an approved human service agency (85% of the cost is paid for by the Lottery Fund). Prior-day registration is required.
PennDOT’s service map will show you which providers offer ride sharing in your area.
Safer Drivers Mean Safer Roads
There are so many safety risks on the road. Some of them are out of our control, such as how other drivers behave, dangerous road conditions, and defective technology. Other factors are under our control, however, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to try and keep those risks off of the road. This can include talking to a driver in your life about their driving ability, putting your cell phone away when you’re behind the wheel, or never driving after you’ve had a drink. Doing any of these things can make a huge difference – and if even one accident is avoided, the effort is more than worth it.
“Older Drivers.” National Institute on Aging. July 12, 2016.
“PA Commutes: Alternative Transportation in Pennsylvania.” www.pacommutes.com. July 12, 2016.
“Talking with Older Drivers: A Guide for Family and Friends.” Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. March 2016.