How do you know when a senior should stop driving and what do you do next?
It's time to address the elephant in the room.... When should you take away the keys from seniors?
We focus a lot of our attention on getting young drivers prepared and ready to drive, but they aren’t the only ones who are operating vehicles. All sorts of people in all age brackets drive. But eventually, it becomes unsafe to continue.
Seniors are often well-loved, and they still have a lot of life and vitality left in them. Nobody wants to see them placing themselves or others at risk! However, it can be difficult for them to accept the fact that it’s time to stop driving… especially when they’ve been driving for several decades. How do you know when it’s time to take away the keys from seniors?
Generally, as you age, certain tasks become more difficult. It can take more effort, or just generally take longer to do tasks such as:
- Turning the wheel
- Twisting your neck to check blindspots
- Identifying and responding to dangers quickly
- Moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal
- Pressing down on a pedal
So, what’s the problem with taking away the car keys from a senior loved one? Well, when you take away their car, it often removes their freedom of mobility. When it’s time for them to stop driving, how can you transition them to a mobile and happy lifestyle while also getting them off the road?
#1: Talk to Them About Your Concerns
Put yourself in your shoes and remember that one day, your child or grandchild may be having the same conversation with you. If they insist that they are still capable of driving safely, convince them to demonstrate their driving ability to you or a driving instructor. Each older adult should be considered individually. After all, not every person will struggle with the same things! There is no specific age that someone should stop driving.
- Finding a Mature Driver Course (for an insurance discount) – Typically available for people 55+. This can be found as an online refresher course to make sure that they are still familiar with the rules of the road.
- Attending a Car Fit event. At a CarFit event, a team of trained technicians and/or health professionals make sure that the participant “fits” their vehicle properly for maximum comfort and safety.
- Having a driver skills assessment. Depending on your state, you may be able to find a list of Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialists who provide skill assessments and evaluations. There are also self-assessments that can be used.
- Have them do some brain training activities. Rather than a driving simulator or education program, they can use this brain fitness software to sharpen the most important safety feature of a driver… their brain!
Based on the discussions and interactions with your loved one, they may decide on their own to stop driving. It’s also possible that it still isn’t time for them to hang their keys up for good because they can still drive safely. You’ll need to make judgement calls.
#2: Get the State Involved
If you’re confident that they are no longer capable of being a safe driver, then you should consider your next plan of action. It can cause a terrible strain on relationships when one person (or the whole family) is trying to do something that ultimately takes away a substantial part of your freedom of mobility. For this reason, some people opt to use reporting features on their state driver regulatory agency to report when a driver may be medically unfit to drive.
When a medical review is requested, it is common for the advisory board to request a health checkup. If the general health of the driver is unacceptable or they don’t provide the requested documents in time, then their license may be suspended. However, if their general health is acceptable to the medical advisory board, then the person may be able to maintain or re-acquire their driver’s license after taking and passing the following:
- A vision test
- The state driver’s license exam
- The state behind-the-wheel driving test
These requirements help to ensure that senior drivers are still able to cognitively and physically operate a vehicle safely.
During this time, be supportive of your senior loved one and help them schedule the necessary tests. If they can meet all of the requirements, then they should still be able to drive safely.
#3: Find Resources to Keep them Mobile & Happy
Consider different options that are available in your local area that will help your loved one do basic tasks such as going grocery shopping and getting to doctor appointments.
Senior Transportation Options:
- Find a Local Agency: There are different services designed to provide low-cost or free transportation for seniors. However, they vary from state-to-state and county-to-county.
- Taking the Bus: If your loved one is close to a bus stop and they are mobile enough to get there, then you should check with your local bus authority. City and county buses often have FREE or highly discounted fares for seniors. There are also certain bus programs that cater specifically to seniors which means that the routes are shorter and more direct, and they are better equipped for wheelchairs and other mobility devices. You should also keep in mind that many bus systems now also have ways for you to interact with them using smart phones, which may be a good perk for the more tech-savvy seniors!
If you plan to get them used to bus transit, it would be a good idea to provide them with the bus schedule and go on a few bus trips with them to make sure they feel comfortable and understand how it all works.
- Consider Uber or Lyft: If your loved one needs to get places locally and you’re unavailable to get them to and from places, consider options like Uber and Lyft.
- For the more tech-savvy older adults, it’s worth noting that Lyft has partnered with Grandpad… a tablet designed especially for seniors!
- For those who prefer traditional telephone service, consider using Go Go Grandparent which schedules Uber and Lyft services over the phone by calling 1 (855) 464 – 6872 or 1 (855) GOGO-USA. Their concierge fee is only $0.27/minute (which is separate from the travel fee charged by Uber or Lyft).
- Some transportation authorities have also partnered with Uber and Lyft to get people to bus stops. You can learn more about this from the Rideshare Guy.
- Eldercare/Adult Day Center: Getting them enrolled in a program that will take them to various activities is a great way to keep them engaged in life, both mentally and physically. These types of places are designed to provide an enjoyable way for seniors to make friends, spend time, and stay sharp. Not sure where to start your search? You can use the nationwide locator tool to find a center that is part of the National Adult Day Services Association. You can also use the Eldercare Locator, a public service provided by the U.S. Administration on Aging to connect you with services for older adults and their families.
- Be the occasional driver: Think about what they need or what would make them happy. If you can consistently set aside a day or two per week to visit with your loved one and take them to places that they need to go or would like to go, do it! It’s a great way to have some bonding time, while also helping them stay mobile and retain their feelings of independence.