When Should Seniors Stop Driving?
Yesterday, I drove onto the freeway and headed to my first client appointment of the day. As the line of cars ahead of me snaked down the on-ramp, I wondered why the normally free-flowing ramp was stuck. I felt impatient and irritated with whatever was causing the problem.
A small silver Honda was trundling along at 40 mph, in traffic that was easily surging past it at 60 to 70 mph, even through a construction zone. As I passed the car, I saw the driver – an elderly man, easily in his 80s, with white hair and beard, wearing a hat and clenching the steering wheel tightly in both hands.
My irritation immediately turned to sympathy. I can only imagine the fear and anxiety he felt driving on a fast-moving highway, in rush-hour, through a construction zone, dealing with drivers who think they are the most important ones on the road. That is a challenge to anyone. For someone whose reflexes and processing time have slowed, it is an enormous challenge.
Many families have to face the issue of getting Mom or Dad, Grandma or Grandpa to stop driving when is it no longer safe for them to do so. It is rarely a straightforward decision. AARP has developed a Driver Safety Program that helps families evaluate a senior’s driving skills, notice key clues that there might be problems, and initiate a discussion with the driver.
The American Automobile Association also has a comprehensive site devoted to skills assessment, planning and communication.
Automedia has developed an online test for physical and mental driving capabilities.
Some states require drivers over a certain age to renew their licenses in person, and to be tested more regularly than a younger driver. While this is often viewed as a burden by older drivers, it also helps to ensure that the older drivers still on the road do possess good driving skills.
One of the central aspects of American culture is independence. When a person can no longer drive safely, he or she loses a huge degree of that independence. Proper preparation and discussion can help ease the process.
Guest Editor Debora Harvey, Patient Navigator