Is It Time to Give Up Your Driver’s License?
*A question I’m often asked at my safety lectures is how can someone tactfully ask a parent or grandparent to give up the car keys. First, pick up a DMV California Driver Handbook. In the back of that book you’ll find the information on how to report someone to the DMV you feel should not be driving due to age or health reasons. Hopefully the following information will help as well.” – Monica Zech – Safety Educator
“Giving up driving for a senior citizen is a major event, almost like when a person first gets a license,” says Scott Spier, M.D., chief of the Division of Psychiatry at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. It represents a loss of mobility, which leads to a sense that independence, competence, and well-being are compromised.
Knowing When to Hang Up the Keys
According to Barbara L. Spreitzer-Berent, gerontologist and president of Quest Learning Resources in Detroit, Michigan, senior citizens and their families can tell if an older person should start thinking about giving up his or her driver’s license by answering the following questions:
Too many “yes” answers could mean an older person may not be able to handle the vehicle in an emergency situation. Experts also say it’s not a good idea to rely solely on the state testing agency that tests drivers and issues driver’s licenses. People who have reflex problems can squeak by and still pass the test.
Testing Driving Ability
To get a better idea of an older person’s driving skills, rehabilitation centers and insurance companies offer tests that objectively rate driving ability. Moreover, some senior centers, hospitals, retirement communities and civic organizations offer driver improvement programs for seniors who never really learned good motoring habits—but are perfectly capable of doing so.
Starting the Discussion
Many family members rely on the older driver’s doctor to let him or her know it might be time to think about giving up the car. The physician considers muscle strength, eye sight, reflexes and general overall health, along with questions about close calls in traffic.
“When a relative notices the senior’s car is chronically bumped and dented, it may be a good time to gently inquire about his or her driving skills,” Dr. Spier says. But the best way to approach the topic, according to Spreitzer-Berent, is tactfully. Don’t just blurt out: “You’re 87 years old, Dad. You’re just too old to drive anymore!” Instead, try: “Dad, I’m a little worried. I noticed a lot of new dents and scratches on your car. What’s been happening?” You may even find that Dad is relieved to talk about it.
If early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia become evident, Dr. Spier suggests it may be kinder to hide the car keys or even disconnect the battery so the car can’t start. Because these early symptoms are accompanied by a fair degree of frustration, hiding the keys might cause a tantrum or outburst, but it will pass quickly.
Getting Around Without a Car
Buses, taxis, and vans operated by senior citizen centers, hospitals, municipal transportation systems and retirement centers are very helpful. Many seniors also count on family and friends for rides. Dena S., a Boston woman who stopped driving about two years ago has a standing “date” with her 25-year old granddaughter. “She picks me up on Saturday mornings and I have a list of errands that I need to do. We finish up around noon and I take her to lunch. It gives us an opportunity to catch up on family gossip, her life, and makes me feel young again.”
For seniors on a fixed income, giving up the car is also cost effective. “When you add up all the costs associated with owning your own car, it is usually much more cost-effective to take a taxi,” says Dr. Spier.
It may not be necessary to give up driving altogether. If poor vision becomes a problem, an older relative can plan to drive only during the day. If a senior motorist tires easily or gets disoriented in new places, he or she can concentrate on doing errands that are closer to home.
Many Seniors Drive Just Fine
It is not true that all seniors should stop driving. “Numerous national studies paint a more positive picture of mature drivers than many expect,” says Spreitzer-Berent. “Reports show that mature motorists are not involved in a disproportionate number of car crashes.” And in fact, insurance rates reflect this fact. In most states, drivers under age 25 pay higher premiums than drivers over age 65. Stress and fatigue may cause some fender-benders among older drivers, but it’s also a problem with all driving age groups.
Getting more sleep will help you to be more alert behind the wheel, and of course “wearing that seat belt” and obeying all traffic laws made for our safety. – Monica Zech – Safety Educator
Association of Driver Educators for the Disabled (ADED)
Drivers.com – Drivers.com
Drivers 55 plus: test your own performance, publication number 362. The American Automobile Association website. Available at: www.aaa.com
DMV website – California DMV