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When is it no longer safe to drive?

by Katie Riggs on August 20, 2014

We know that caregivers and family members dread the day when it is no longer safe for their loved one to drive. And determining when that time has come may be even more difficult. Some of the questions you might be asking yourself are:

“How do I know if it’s the right time?”
“How am I going to approach the conversation?”
“Will mom/dad be angry with me?”

While this may be a difficult conversation to approach, oftentimes it can mean the difference between life and death for your loved one or another person on the road. We feel that this is a very important topic for seniors and families so we have compiled a list of suggestions in helping you through this process.

Determining if it’s time
A person’s physical and mental conditions are important factors in determining their ability to drive. You may use the checklist below to help you make this determination.

  1. Vision: Has your loved one had a recent vision test? If not, we would recommend scheduling one to determine their eye sight. The advice of a well-meaning doctor will help your loved one arrive at the decision of whether to drive or not.
  2. Physical ability: Has your loved one had a recent physical? If not, we would recommend scheduling a routine physical to determine their overall health, dexterity, strength, and height. Again, a physician will be able to help you determine whether they are physically fit to drive a vehicle.
  3. Medications: What type of medications is your loved one taking, both prescription and over-the-counter? Does the label warn against driving while taking? Do the medications cause drowsiness or light-headedness? Are there drug interactions between their medications? These are all things to keep in mind while evaluating your loved one’s ability to drive. If you have any questions regarding their medications, we always recommend seeking out the advice of a professional such as their primary care physician, internist or pharmacist who can evaluate all of the medications they are taking and any possible side effects.
  4. Disease: Has your loved one been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease? If so, they may become disoriented, get lost, or make a catastrophic error while out on the road. We recommend obtaining the advice of their physician to help you with the conversation about taking away the keys.

Other helpful tips
If you have not yet determined that your loved one is physically and mentally fit to drive, it might also be a good idea to ride along in the car with them while they are driving to observe their reaction time and decision-making behind the wheel. Do they change lanes sporadically? Weave between lanes? Brake or stop abruptly? Seem nervous while driving? Your local bureau of motor vehicles may also offer a senior safe driving course or driving test to help you determine your loved one’s ability to drive.

Also, be sure to make regular inspections of their car for scrapes and/or dents that may indicate unsafe driving. Lastly, make sure that their vehicle is being properly maintained such as good tread on the tires, new wiper blades, adequate brakes and proper engine fluid levels. Also insist that your loved one carry a cell phone that is turned on at all times in the event of an emergency, but never in use, while driving.

How to approach the conversation if it is unsafe to drive
If you have made the determination that it is unsafe for your loved one to drive, keep in mind that it is always easier to let a professional, such as their eye doctor, physician or local BMV, help make the decision for you. If you still feel that it is unsafe for your loved one to drive, we recommend that you approach the topic by having an honest conversation about the consequences of their driving if they are indeed unsafe to drive.

Lastly, be prepared to provide your loved one with alternatives to driving such as public transportation services that are available to them or a driving service for seniors. Also make sure that your loved one still has the ability to get out of the house or place they are living so that they can remain social and independent members of their community.  If you or your family members are not able to provide this for them, we would urge you to explore senior companion servicesthat may offer your loved one the ability to live independently in their community.