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Peggy Flannigan Ph.D.
Peggy Flannigan Ph.D.

8 Signs Your Elderly Parent Is No Longer Fit To Drive

Keep an eye out for these clues when it comes to a parent and their driving

During our childhood, it was our parents who looked out for us. They provided food, shelter, care, and love. But as the years turn into decades, our parents become our responsibility. It is often up to family members to spot the signs that their elderly parents are no longer safe drivers. However, age alone should not be the sole determining factor when considering driving ability. Some 70-year-olds might be unsafe drivers, whereas some 90-year-olds could still be well capable of driving. Here are eight signs to look out for.

1. Hearing and/or Sight Loss

Hearing and visual aids can only do so much to help the elderly drive a vehicle.
A friend recently told me that her mom complained of trouble reading road signs. When my friend suggested that maybe it was time for her mom to give up her car, her mom said she just needed new glasses. There comes a time when the damage cannot be mitigated and the potential risks outweigh the benefits of driving. Help your elderly parent understand that giving up their driving privilege is for their own safety and that of other drivers on the road- and not a punishment.

2. Minor Dents in Your Parent’s Car

Minor dents are an indication that they are having small crashes that they may not even be noticing. I remember one older gentleman who I saw back out of his parking space and into the car behind him. He drove away as if he didn’t realize it had happened. These minor dents can be a harbinger of a more serious accident.

3. Easily Distracted

This can be noticed at home if they frequently start and abandon minor tasks. When driving, does your parent suddenly lose concentration? If they’re driving, they may be easily distracted by a conversation, daydreaming, changing the radio station, or adjusting the temperature controls. Suggest that they delegate tasks like changing the radio station or adjusting the temperature controls to a passenger, and keep their focus on the road if engaging in a conversation. If these precautionary measures don’t help, then they should strongly consider giving up driving.

4. Regular Alcohol Consumption

Compared to younger people, alcohol may affect the elderly differently. Have you noticed them having trouble with balance when walking? Be careful not to mistake this as a result of aging- it may be an indication of alcohol’s effect. If this is the case, they should not be driving. One drink can have a much greater effect in their older age, than in their younger years. A study conducted by Sara Jo Nixon, Ph.D. and her team, “. . . found that despite the participants' low BAC, just one serving of alcohol was enough to affect seniors' driving abilities. They found no significant signs of impaired driving among the younger moderately intoxicated drivers.”

5. Slow Reaction Time

Do they run red lights or stop signs? Does your parent fail to brake when an animal runs out onto the road? If this happens, point out that next time it could be a child. This could be something that would warn them to be more careful, or consider giving up driving entirely. My friend whose mom has difficulty reading signs also mentioned to me that because her mom is generally weakened, she is concerned about her reaction time as well. While she hasn’t given up her car, it is currently in at my friend’s house. She shared with me that she was concerned that her mom would try to drive if the car was available.

6. Poor Driving Techniques

Is your parent hunched over the wheel? Do you catch him or her driving out of their lane? Does your parent drive abnormally slow or fast for conditions? Does he or she appear to be tense or a “white knuckle” driver? This might be an indication that your parent is also be nervous about driving and is trying very hard to avoid driving mistakes. These cues might appear minor, but left unaddressed can cause serious accidents down the road.

7. Multiple Tickets

Does it seem like the parking and speeding tickets are quickly adding up? A missed stop sign, not signaling when switching lanes, or forgetting to turn on their headlights can be a sign that it’s time for them to stop driving.

8. You’re Nervous Sitting in the Passenger Seat

If you don’t feel safe sitting next to them in the passenger seat then it’s imperative you let them know. It may be hard to put your finger on what exactly is making you nervous, but it is always better to be extra safe than risk an accident or tragedy. This is an important sign that should not be ignored.

If you pick up on any of these signs, it is important that you speak to your parent and suggest they stop driving. If they fail to understand the significance of these signs, consider taking them to the doctor for an expert opinion. This will help them understand why they should make the decision to stop driving. Also, be sure to explain to your parent that they are not giving up their independence by giving up their driving privileges. Instead, offer them alternatives like public transport, ride-sharing, or door-to-door services. Highlight the benefits of these alternatives- meeting new people, safety, and dependability. Remind them that they are not being punished and that this precaution is for their safety and those of other drivers.

I have a 96-year-old relative whose 99-year old friend bought a new car last year after my relative gave up his. I asked my relative what was the impetus for him to give up his car at age 95. His response was one that maybe we should all take to hear. He said, “Well, you see, I had a (mild) stroke and my limbs weren’t working as they should. You hate to give it up, but you have to use good sense. To drive in the public, I just wasn’t fit. I miss it, but I don’t think I should be driving. I’m getting too old to drive!”

Please feel free to check out the Bradley University site to find out more info.


About the Author
Peggy Flannigan Ph.D.

Peggy Flannigan, Ph.D., is a professor at Bradley University.

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