It is estimated that by the year 2030, there will be 58.9 million people in the U.S. over the age of 65—and many of these individuals will still be drivers.
While many older drivers are still safe at this age, these drivers have a higher risk of serious injury related to motor vehicle accidents than their younger counterparts on the road.
By age 75, the crash risk is higher, not only due to increased frailty but also to the tendency for older drivers to drive less overall with less time on the road with current traffic conditions.
And by age 85, your older driver is four times as likely to die or be seriously injured, due to an automobile accident than an older driver who is 70.
What can adult children do to keep their parents safe on the road?
Do have an open and honest conversation
Start by having an honest conversation with your loved one. Recognize that this conversation is tough, and you may attempt the conversation about stopping driving over the course of several weeks, months and even years.
A wonderful resource for starting this conversation can be found in a kit titled, At the Crossroads.
This is a boxed set of articles researched and gathered by MIT AgeLab, Boston University School of Medicine and The Hartford. While it is described as a support group kit on Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and driving, the foundations presented in the kit can be used for numerous medical concerns related to older driver safety.
Do talk with a doctor to discuss your concerns
Once you have discussed your concerns with your older driver, make an appointment with his or her doctor to see if your concerns are shared by your loved one’s doctor.
It is likely that this topic has already been discussed--especially if there is a long-standing relationship between the doctor and your older driver. The doctor will likely discuss current medical status, medications and how overall health can influence driver safety.
It is possible that a small change, such as a change in the timing of when a medication is taken, can have a big influence on driver safety.
Do request a detailed screening from a physician
Ask your parent’s doctor to administer the screening included in the Physicians Guide to Assessing and Counseling the Older Driver. This tool, created by the American Medical Association and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, presents recommendations for physicians on assessing and counseling older patients on medical fitness-to-drive. These recommendations include a quick set of easy-to-administer tests.
Do plan alternate transportation options
A change in an older driver’s community mobility is more than just the ability to hop in the car to get some bread and milk. Being able to drive is often associated with personal freedom, self-efficacy and even a right of passage.
If this right is given up or taken away, older drivers are more likely to become isolated in their neighborhood and in their home. This potential isolation can be the start of other medical problems, including depression that may further symptoms of dementia.
To reduce this risk, begin planning alternate transportation options for your older driver. Family members, church or civic organizations, as well as recreation centers and senior centers often fill at least a part of your loved one’s transportation and community mobility needs.
A great place to look for local transportation options available in your city is via local senior publications. You can find valuable information not only about community mobility and transportation, but also a host of other topics related to seniors.
To empower older drivers to take matters into their own hands, ask them to participate in a CarFit event. CarFit is a collaboration between the American Occupational Therapy Association, AAA and AARP Driver Safety to ensure that your loved ones and their cars fit them optimally.
During a 20-minute CarFit appointment, trained technicians will review the mirror and steering wheel angles, airbags, seat and seat belt positions, placement and usage, ignition, line of sight, neck mobility, blind spots and operation of other vehicle controls.
If problems arise during this screening, an occupational therapist/driver generalist can make specific suggestions. Or the therapist might even recommend further evaluation through a driver rehabilitation program.
Do not overlook online and computer resources
There are numerous online and computer resources that you and your loved one can use to check on driving safety and/or to enhance continued safe driving skills.
One example is the AAA Roadwise Review. This is an interactive driving evaluation that can be completed online or by ordering a CD-ROM. It tests physical, visual and cognitive abilities in a confidential manner and provides feedback to the driver about reducing the risks associated with driving.
You also might want to consider AARP’s Smart Driver™ course. This new 2014 course includes information on roundabouts, pavement markings, stop-sign compliance, red-light running and safety issues, such as speeding, seat belts and turn-signal use.
Do not forget to consult with a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist
If a decision can’t be made as to whether your loved one should continue to drive, a good next step is to consult with a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS). A CDRS, typically an occupational therapist, has specialized, mentored and certified training in clinical and on-road evaluations.
The typical evaluation includes tests of driver visual, cognitive, physical and on-road skills. While programs vary from clinic to clinic, a driver evaluation can last between three to four hours.
Once the evaluation is completed, recommendations are given to the driver and the referring physician, along with paperwork for the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Do not put off the difficult conversation with loved ones
Avoiding this important conversation with aging parents typically leads to a confrontation about the topic with hurt feelings and strained relationships. Even worse, avoiding this vital conversation might mean that an accident occurs. While many accidents are fender benders, even small accidents can result in an airbag deployment.
Aging does not necessarily mean a person's driving days are over. However, it is vital to ensure the safety of your loved ones on the road. This begins with learning more about how to detect problems, paying attention to any warning signs that age is affecting safety, and discussing changes in your older loved one's driving.
By reducing risk factors and incorporating safe driving practices, your aging parents can continue to drive into their senior years. Additionally, planning for alternative methods of transportation can offer health and social benefits to your loved ones.