As we age, it’s important to think about—and plan for—a time when we may no longer be able to drive. But how do we decide when it’s time to transition from driver to passenger?
In our busy suburban communities driving is essential to an independent lifestyle, and the decision to stop driving is a sensitive, personal one. In addition to creating practical challenges, giving up driving may stir feelings of anger, frustration, isolation, and depression, so it is not to be taken lightly.
With the significance of driving in mind, family members can help older drivers make the transition from driver to passenger. But how do you initiate this difficult conversation? Here are some advice.
First, help older drivers stay safe behind the wheel for as long as possible. Adult children can help aging parents regularly maintain their vehicles. And if it’s time for a new car, adult children can help identify choices with new technologies that can enhance safe driving, like reverse monitoring systems.
Second, family members should observe an older one’s driving by taking a ride as a passenger and keeping an eye out for warning signs. It’s important to look for changes in driving abilities. These signs include:
Frequent “close calls” or near-crashes
Unexplained dents or scrapes on vehicles, fences, mailboxes, garage doors, etc.
Getting lost, even in familiar locations
Difficulty seeing or following traffic signals, road signs, and pavement markings
Slower responses to unexpected situations, trouble moving the driving foot from the gas to the brake, and confusing the two pedals
Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections or on highway entrance and exit ramps
Experiencing road rage or inspiring it in other drivers
Easily becoming distracted while driving
Difficulty turning around to check the rearview while backing up or changing lanes
Receiving multiple tickets or warnings from law enforcement officers.
Third, if you notice a pattern of warning signs and an increase in frequency, then it’s time to initiate a conversation. It’s important to choose the right time, place, and messenger.
It’s important that the right person initiate the conversation .
Research indicates that 50 percent of married drivers prefer to hear about driving concerns from their spouses first, then doctors, and finally adult children. Whoever initiates the conversation should have a strong rapport with the older driver.
Whoever it is should be empathetic, armed with facts about the older person’s driving and able to offer ideas for alternative transportation if needed .
Avoid bringing up the topic of driving during family gatherings. Instead, look for a quiet, private time when all parties involved will have privacy and minimal distractions.
If it’s time to initiate a conversation with a parent or spouse about driving.
While many older Americans are staying safe on the roads and driving longer than ever before, for some, health-related changes in vision, hearing, flexibility, or cognitive function can make them less safe behind the wheel.
With planning, preparation and sensitivity, families can help make the transition from being a driver to being a passenger a bit easier for older drivers and those who love them.