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  • John Aigner

Driving: “ Know when to hold'em, when to fold'em, and when to quit"

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

When an elderly person should consider stopping driving



As people age, their ability to drive safely may decline due to several factors such as declining vision, cognitive abilities, and slower reaction time. In the United States, the number of drivers aged 65 and older is increasing rapidly, and according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), they accounted for 18% of all traffic fatalities in 2018. Therefore, it's essential for seniors and their families to know when an elderly person should consider stopping driving.


I can personally attest to this as I have had a couple of close calls recently and my night vision is becoming increasingly problematic. Age alone is not a reliable indicator of driving ability, and many older adults are safe and competent drivers.


Multiple factors can affect an older person's ability to drive safely, such as:

  1. Vision: As people age, their vision may decline, making it harder to see clearly and read signs. Conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration are common among older adults and can affect their driving ability.

2. Cognitive Abilities: As we age, our cognitive abilities may decline, affecting our attention, memory, and decision-making skills. Driving requires quick reflexes, good judgment, and the ability to multitask, and cognitive decline can impair these abilities.

3. Medications: Many older adults take medications that can affect their driving ability. Some medications can cause drowsiness, dizziness, and other side effects that can impair driving.

4. Physical Health: Health conditions such as arthritis, Parkinson's disease, and stroke can affect an older person's ability to drive safely. Physical limitations such as limited mobility or decreased strength can also impact their ability to drive.

5. Reaction Time: As people age, their reaction time may slow down, making it harder to react quickly in unexpected situations. This can increase the risk of accidents, especially in situations that require quick reflexes such as merging onto a highway or avoiding a collision.

6. Emotional State: Seldom considered, but equally important is a person’s emotional state, in the moment. I don’t know if there any statistics showing the increased risk of accident when an elder person is emotionally fraught, like after an argument with a family member, but I would bet that the risk of accident go off the chart in that circumstance,

When Should an Elderly Person Consider Stopping Driving?

The decision to stop driving is a difficult one for many older adults, and it's important to approach the topic with sensitivity and compassion. Here are some signs that an elderly person should consider stopping driving:

  1. Increased Near Misses: If an elderly person has been involved in a near-miss accident or has had several close calls, it's a sign that their driving skills may be declining.

  2. Difficulty with Basic Driving Skills: If an elderly person has difficulty with basic driving skills such as staying in their lane, obeying traffic signs, or maintaining a safe speed, it's a sign that they may no longer be able to drive safely.

  3. Difficulty with Navigation: If an elderly person gets lost frequently or has trouble navigating to familiar places, it's a sign that their spatial awareness and memory may be declining.

  4. Increased Traffic Violations: If an elderly person has received multiple traffic violations or tickets, it's a sign that they may be having trouble following traffic laws and regulations.

  5. Decreased Confidence: If an elderly person is no longer confident in their ability to drive or is anxious about driving, it's a sign that they may need to consider other transportation options.

What Are the Alternative Transportation Options for Elderly People?

Stopping driving can be a difficult transition for many older adults, and it's essential to have alternative transportation options in place. Here are some transportation options for elderly people:

  1. Public Transportation: Many cities and towns have public transportation systems, such as buses and trains, that can provide a safe and reliable alternative to driving.

2. Ride-Sharing Services: Ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft can provide a convenient and affordable alternative to driving, especially for shorter trips.

3. Senior Transportation Services: Many communities offer transportation services specifically for seniors, such as door-to-door transportation to medical appointments and grocery stores.


4. Family and Friends: Family members and friends can provide transportation support for elderly people who no longer drive. They can help with grocery shopping, running errands, and getting to appointments.

5. Volunteer Driver Programs: Many non-profit organizations offer volunteer driver programs that provide transportation services to seniors who need them.


It's essential to plan for alternative transportation options before an elderly person stops driving. This can help reduce the stress and anxiety that often comes with giving up driving and ensure that they can maintain their independence and stay connected to their community.


How to Talk to an Elderly Person About Stopping Driving?

Talking to an elderly person about stopping driving can be a challenging conversation, and it's essential to approach the topic with sensitivity and compassion. Here are some tips for having this conversation:

  1. Start the Conversation Early: It's best to start the conversation about stopping driving early, before any major safety concerns arise. This can help the elderly person feel more comfortable with the idea and give them time to explore alternative transportation options.

2. Focus on Safety: Emphasize the importance of safety and explain that stopping driving can help reduce the risk of accidents and injuries.


3. Listen to Their Concerns: Allow the elderly person to express their concerns and fears about stopping driving. Listen to their perspective and offer empathy and understanding.

4. Provide Alternatives: Offer alternative transportation options and help the elderly person explore the options that will work best for them.

5. Be Compassionate: This conversation can be emotional, and it's essential to approach it with compassion and understanding. Avoid being judgmental or critical and focus on the elderly person's needs and concerns.


Conclusion

As people age, their ability to drive safely may decline due to several factors such as declining vision, cognitive abilities, and slower reaction time. It's essential for seniors and their families to know when an elderly person should consider stopping driving and have alternative transportation options in place. Talking to an elderly person about stopping driving can be a difficult conversation, but approaching the topic with sensitivity and compassion can help ensure a smooth transition to alternative transportation options. With proper planning and support, elderly people can maintain their independence and stay connected to their community even if they no longer drive.

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