Seniors and Driving Issues – Part 3

May 1, 2013

As discussed in the previous two posts on Seniors and Driving, there are many physical and mental changes that seniors need to understand and rectify if possible when choosing to continue driving. In addition, driving can still be safely done by most seniors if they also modify their car and the way they drive. Aging does not mean total loss of driving ability.

Senior Driving

Maximize Safety on the Road

Seniors can take control of their driving situation and maximize safety by following the steps below.

  • Taking Charge of Health—Get regular health check-ups, including eye tests and hearing tests, learn medication side-effects, and sleep well.
  • Finding the Right Car and Aids Needed for Driving—Get car with automatic transmission, power steering, and power brakes. See mechanic regularly for scheduled maintenance. Keep windows and headlights clean. See occupational therapist about prescribing equipment to make it easier to steer car and operate foot pedals.
  • Drive Defensively—Leave adequate space for car in front, pay extra attention to the flow of traffic, and make sure to drive appropriate to the flow of traffic. Avoid distractions like talking on the phone or puzzling out a map. Leave sufficient braking distance.
  • Know Limitations—Avoid driving situations that cause discomfort like night-driving, driving on freeways or highways, and driving in bad weather. Make sure to plan route ahead of time when going to unfamiliar places to feel more confident on the road.
  • Listen to the Concerns of Others–If relatives, friends, or others begin to talk to the senior about his/her driving, it may be time for the senior to take a hard, honest look at his/her driving ability. Use self-evaluation tools or brush up through a driving-refresher course. Talk to doctor about their opinion.

Adjust to Life without Driving

Seniors who determine that they are better off not driving may find adjusting to life without a car to be challenging at first. They might feel frustrated, angry, irritable, or even ashamed and worry that they might lose their independence. However, it takes courage for seniors to put their safety and that of other first. There may be some advantages to not driving that they hadn’t considered.

  • Save money on the cost of car ownership—This includes car insurance, maintenance, registration and gasoline. Seniors can save this money and pay for alternative transportation if necessary.
  •  Improve health—Seniors will more likely walk or bike to places more if they do not have a car and this can improve their health.
  • Expand social circle—Seniors can reach out to new people for rides and offer to pay for gas or do something like cook a meal, in exchange.
  • Appreciate the change of pace—Many seniors will slow down their lives after they stop driving which can be a pleasant change for their lifestyles.

Know Transportation Alternatives

With more alternatives for transportation, a senior’s transition from driving can be smoother. Those seniors who live in areas without many other transportation options may want to consider moving to another area or to a senior living community. These are some transportation choices that seniors can select instead of driving.

  • Public Transit
  • Ride sharing
  • Community shuttles/senior transit
  • Taxis or private drivers
  • Walking/ cycling
  • Motorized wheelchair

Senior Driving Safety

Talk to a Senior Loved One about Driving Concerns

Driving safety can be a sensitive issue for many seniors. Driving a car allows self-sufficiency and independence so it is not something that seniors want to relinquish very easily. However, the safety of the senior and others on the road is more important and needs to be considered first when deciding if a senior should drive. Some seniors might even be aware of their faltering ability to safely drive but might need someone else to encourage them to stop driving before they make the decision.

To discuss driving concerns with a senior, a family member, friend, or medical professional should:

  • Be respectful—Most seniors will highly value their privilege of driving so the subject of giving this up should be brought up carefully. It needs to be brought up however, without intimidation, if there are legitimate concerns.
  • Give specific examples—It is more convincing to speak to a senior about specific instances that have shown their difficulty with driving, such as inability to turn the head quickly when turning, rather than speaking generally about him/her having driving problems and needing to give up driving.
  • Find strength in numbers—It is more convincing to speak to the senior about driving safety or about giving up driving when joining with other family members who have also noticed that the senior has problems on the road. Having a medical professional speak to the senior could also be more persuasive.
  • Help find alternatives—A senior may have never considered other options to driving before so by giving them other concrete examples of how they may get around, he/she could be more convinced that it would be alright to give up driving. A family member or friend could even offer to give the senior more rides if needed.
  • Understand the difficulty of the transition—Seniors may feel a profound loss with giving up driving so their family members or friends need to be sensitive to this. It may help to slowly transition the senior away from driving to other alternatives by first encouraging them to not drive in the dark or on freeways and then moving to totally relinquish driving when needed.

Conclusion

If driving, seniors need to maximize safety. However, when they give up their driving privilege, seniors can consider all the benefits and look into alternative modes of transportation. Family members, friends, or medical professionals who have concerns with a senior’s driving need to address the issue with sensitivity and concern.

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