Millions of Americans have a loved one over the age of 70. With one in five Americans caring for an older relative, the number of adults concerned about their parents’ driving abilities is on the rise. According to a new survey conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab and The Hartford, one out of 10 adults is worried about their elderly family members being on the road.
The key question that has to be asked: When do you pull the keys? It is not an issue to take lightly. Today, the automobile has become so ingrained in our culture that taking away a person’s ability to drive severely hampers his or her opportunity to interact with others and provide themselves with necessities like food. At the same time, continuing to give driving privileges to a person whose driving skills have significantly deteriorated can have tragic consequences. Simply discussing driving issues with a close relative can be stressful and contentious.
“We understand that talking to a parent about their driving can be very difficult,” said Jodi Olshevski, gerontologist at The Hartford. “If you’re worried, you should find out if your concerns are valid. Learn the warning signs, get in the car and observe the older driver. Once you get the facts and educate yourself about the resources available, you will be in a better position to help.”
Red flags that point to waning driving ability may vary. Some of the less serious issues may be resolved by changing driving behavior or improving physical fitness, while the more serious behaviors may require immediate action -- like telling your loved one that they can never drive again.
“Making a single minor driving mistake doesn’t mean that a person needs to stop driving,” says Lisa D’Ambrosio, a research scientist at MIT AgeLab. “What families need to do is look for patterns of warning signs and for an increase in frequency and severity of the warning signs.”
Here are 20 key warning signs of deteriorating driving skills, ranked from minor to serious:
- Feels less confident while driving
- Has difficulty turning to see when backing up
- Easily distracted while driving
- Honked at by other drivers on the road
- Hits curbs often
- Scrapes or dents car, mailbox or garage
- Experiences increased agitation or irritation while driving
- Fails to notice traffic signs or important activity on the side of the road
- Has trouble navigating turns
- Uses bad judgment when making left turns
- Does not respond to unexpected situations quickly enough
- Moves into wrong lane or has difficulty maintaining lane position
- Gets confused at exits
- Has been ticketed or given warnings for moving violations
- Gets lost in familiar places
- Has been involved in a car accident
- Stops in traffic for no apparent reason
If someone in your family exhibits some of these behaviors -- especially those on the lower, more severe end of the scale -- you need to come to terms with the issue before a tragedy occurs. To help families prepare for and initiate thoughtful conversations with older drivers, AARP, The Hartford and MIT AgeLab teamed up to produce We Need to Talk, a free course that helps family members to understand the emotional connection to driving, observe their loved ones’ driving skills and plan the conversation.
“Taking time to prepare can alleviate these concerns and help initiate a thoughtful, positive conversation,” said Julie Lee, director of the AARP Driver Safety Program. “We Need to Talk helps families think through who the right messenger is, when the right time to talk might be and provides some conversation-starters. It also covers how to design a transportation plan that provides the driver with alternatives for getting around.”