All throughout his adult life, driving was a form of therapy for Dave, making him feel confident, independent, and in control. But when Dave turned 68, the way he’d felt about driving started to change. He felt his reflexes slow, his mobility decline, and his vision deteriorate to the extent that it began affecting his ability to drive. Driving quickly went from being his favorite activity to one that caused him a great deal of anxiety. Before he knew it, his children were sitting him down and talking to him about the need for him to give up his license.
While Dave ended up giving up his license when he turned 72, it’s important to remember that all adults age differently and some may be more competent than others when it comes to driving. And while it’s hard to say what is the average age seniors stop driving at in the United States, we can look at other factors to help you to determine if it is no longer safe for your aging loved one to drive.
Age Is Only One Factor in Determining Older Adult Driver Safety
Age is certainly a factor in determining how safe it is for your aging loved one to drive, but it isn’t the whole picture. While it is true that aging affects motor skills, alertness, vision, and reflexes, it’s unfair to say that all aging adults are affected to the same extent, or that aging adults get into more car accidents than other demographics.
For example, while AAA reports that fatal crashes increase per mile traveled after the age of 75, with a more dramatic increase after the age of 80, it’s important to note that this isn’t because older adults are more likely to be involved in crashes. Rather, when they are involved in crashes, they have a higher chance or suffering severe medical complications or injury due to their age.
It’s also important to note that drivers over 65 have a high incidence of seatbelt use, are generally more discerning about the weather conditions they drive in, and have a much lower incidence of impaired driving. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 6% of drivers over the age of 75 involved in fatal crashes were under the influence of alcohol, compared to 28% of drivers between 21 and 24 years old. Therefore, we must be careful not to judge the safety of one’s driving solely based on their age.
How to Determine If It Is Time for Your Loved One to Stop Driving
Because all adults age differently, when your loved one should stop driving is completely unique to them. It’s quite possible that an 80-year-old in perfect health can drive safely without posing a threat to oneself or other drivers on the road, while a 60-year-old with impaired vision and a medical condition that affects their motor skills may indeed need to stop driving.
To help you determine whether or not you should be concerned about how safe it is for your loved one to be driving, it’s important to start by considering the following:
Be familiar with your state’s particular provisions for older drivers so that you can ensure your aging loved one is meeting the requirements to keep their license. In California, for instance, once drivers reach the age of 70, they must renew their licenses in person and perform an eye exam and written test every five years. Doctors in California also must report any medical conditions that could impact one’s driving, and civilians can confidentially report any unsafe drivers. These screening measures can act as a helpful gauge for loved ones as to whether or not it is safe for their aging parent or relative to drive on their own.
How mentally and physically healthy your aging loved one is will greatly determine how safe it is for them to drive. Talking to your loved one’s doctor (with your aging loved one present, of course) and getting their professional opinion about whether or not they think it is safe for the aging adult to drive is key. Be sure to specifically ask if your loved one is taking any medications that could impair their driving, as many aging adults are unaware that medication can affect their motor skills.
It’s also a good idea to observe your loved one’s driving first hand. Go for rides with them on a regular basis and pay close attention to their driving. Do they have difficulty staying in their lane? Are they using their blinkers? Are they able to turn their head enough to shoulder check? These are all things to look out for and can be useful to bring up in conversation with them if you think that it may not be safe for them to drive.
Chatting with your loved one about how driving feels for them will give you a better, more well-rounded idea of whether or not they should stop driving. It can be tough to know exactly how to talk to an elderly loved one about giving up their driver’s license, but if you have the support of their doctor and can identify specific problems with their driving that concern you, chances are better that they will be more receptive. Also be sure to present them with other transportation alternatives so that they know what options are available to them. For example, programs like Institute on Aging’s Home Care and Support Services offer escorted transportation for aging adults living independently. Social Day programs also typically provide transport to and from the centers, which proves that giving up driving doesn’t have to mean also giving up a social life.
While Dave, like many aging adults, found it difficult to give up the sense of freedom and independence that came with driving, he eventually came to terms with the fact that it was safer for him and for the other drivers on the road if he let someone else take the wheel. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing for our aging loved ones that they want for themselves—to live a long, safe, happy life.
At Institute on Aging, we are dedicated to helping aging adults maintain their independence and age with integrity. To find out if our programs and services could be a good fit for your aging loved one, contact us today.