Not every older driver needs to turn in their keys. There are ways to keep driving safely for many people. From high tech tools to plain old common sense, these strategies could help keep your parents safe when driving.
According to research on improving elder driver safety, there are nearly 42 million Americans age 65+ licensed to drive. That represents almost 20% of all drivers. It’s not only a large group — it’s one that’s growing.
The Sometimes Bumpy Road to Safety
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, senior drivers are involved in more fatal crashes than other groups. But this trend has less to do with declining driving skills than it does with an older driver’s tendency to experience medical problems or sustain an injury.
Good news: Research also reveals that senior drivers are likely to adjust their driving style as they grow older. Example: It’s not uncommon for aging motorists to reduce or avoid driving during inclement weather, or limit night driving.
Technology is Driving the Safety Conversation
The best way to keep older adults behind the wheel longer is to help them stay safe. One way to accomplish this is to equip cars with in-vehicle technology-based solutions that can make up for slips in motoring skills. Voice-command systems are one of many technology tools that are proving to enhance driver safety. These tools often come as standard equipment in new vehicles. But they are also offered as aftermarket products that can be installed in your mom or dad's existing car.
13 Safety Products for Older Drivers
Here are 13 products designed to help older drivers stay safe. Many of these assist not just older drivers, but the caregivers who transport them.
- Seatbelt adaptors that enable drivers to put the belt on more easily
- Hand-controlled acceleration and braking
- Removable grab bars that give drivers something to hold onto as the enter and exit the vehicle
- OnStar services to help with navigation and emergency services
- Special mirrors that expand peripheral vision
- Swing-out seats that make vehicle entry easier
- Siren alerts for drivers with hearing challenges
- Bioptics that can be attached to eyeglasses to assist a driver with very low vision
- Tire pressure sensors
- Traction control sensors
- Dashboard-mounted, wireless back-up cameras
- Seat cushions
- Pedal foot extensions that make pedals easier to reach
AAA Will Check Vehicle Safety and Give Tips
In a move designed to help seniors stay on the road safer and longer, AAA teamed up with several partners and developed CarFit. This program provides a 12-point vehicle check, and gives qualified specialists a chance to observe elderly drivers in their cars — creating the chance to have a conversation about tools for safer driving.
Tips For Elderly Drivers Who Want to Be Safe
While the high-tech tools covered above can give a boost to safety, there’s no replacing common sense. The Mayo Clinic shared seven things seniors (and people who care about them) can do to continue enjoying driving privileges safely and confidently:
1. Stay physically active
2. Schedule regular vision and hearing tests
3. Manage chronic conditions — especially those that might impact driving skills
4. Understand the driver’s limitations
5. Drive when the road — and the driver — are in good condition
6. Stash the cellphone and focus on the road
7. Update driving skills with a refresher course for older drivers
Balancing safety concerns with the desire for independence is the perfect opener for a conversation with your parent. Be supportive, help your mother or father be realistic — and always keep your eyes on the road ahead.
Staying safe behind the wheel involves a variety of physical and cognitive abilities, driving skills, and the right kind of behavior while driving.
There are numerous signs and symptoms that may indicate a decline in the ability to safely operate a vehicle. Here are some of the most common indicators:
- Inability to react quickly to unexpected situations
- Getting distracted while driving
- Lack of confidence in one’s motoring abilities
- Problems merging into the flow of traffic
- Not being able to staying safely within a lane without weaving
- Bumping into curbs during turns
- Trouble when backing up
- Minor scrapes or dents on a car
- Inability to maintain a proper speed on the highway
- Having a series of close calls
- Driving too fast or too slow for road conditions
- Losing one’s way in places that are familiar
- Confusing the brake with the gas pedal or vice versa
- Straining to read road signs and driving too slowly because of it
- Following other cars too closely
- Difficulty looking over their shoulder to check for traffic
- Hesitation or nervousness when navigating through heavy, rush hour traffic
How Physical Problems can Impact Driving Ability
Did you know that stiff joints and weakening muscles might be impacting your loved one’s ability to drive? Conditions like arthritis in seniors may make it more difficult to turn one’s head to look back. It might also make your parent operate the steering wheel in an uneven manner or apply the wrong amount of pressure to the brakes.
When physical limitations start affecting safe driving, it might be time to see a doctor. You could also consider whether or not your loved one is driving the right car. Is it equipped with power steering and power brakes? Are the side view mirrors large enough? Perhaps hand controls for the gas and brake pedals would help?
The Connection Between Vision, Hearing and Driving
As eyes age, senior drivers might find it more difficult to detect people, objects, and movement. Street signs and traffic signage may be harder to read. Night vision can suffer. Glare from the sun or the headlights of approaching vehicles can become almost blinding. Besides normal age-related changes in eyesight, diseases of the eye like cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration can impair vision. Reduced vision due to dementia, called posterior cortical atrophy, can also pose a risk to driving.
Many experts recommend yearly eye exams for older people. You might want to accompany your loved one so you can ask about accommodations for vision challenges. Sometimes, it’s as simple as updating a prescription for glasses or contact lenses. Also consider eye exercises to reduce age-related vision changes.
Some people decide to limit nighttime driving, or to just stop driving after dark. Sunrise and sunset can be particularly difficult because the sun is shining directly into the eyes.
Declines in hearing can make driving less safe, too. If an older person can’t hear a horn or a siren, it could put them in peril. So make sure your mom or dad has their hearing examined regularly. Make sure your parents are wearing their hearing aids if they have any. Again, discuss the relationship between adequate hearing and good driving with a professional. Ask for safe driving tips.
13 Tips for Having “The Car Keys” Conversation with Your Parent.
There may come a time when the best option for keeping your loved one safe is to park the car and stow the keys. While it’s not fun to think about, it might be one of the most important conversations an adult child has with a senior parent.
Your loved one will very likely consider the loss of driving privileges as a big blow to their independence. It is also hard to come to grips with the fact that their driving skills have declined. Here are some ways to lead your loved one toward the right choice concerning driving:
- The sooner, the better. In fact, it might be smart to have the car key talk before an older driver in your life needs to quit. Maybe you approach it like this: “Mom, I know we’ve decided that you can keep driving safely for now. But one of these days we might need to talk about letting other people take care of your transportation needs.”
- Get your loved one’s doctor involved. They may take the news better from a professional rather than their child.
- Consider a “driving contract.” Some experts suggest creating and signing while they are still behind the wheel. This shows that they agree to let you help them make the decision when the time comes. That way, when the day arrives, it won’t be as big of a shock.
- Don’t blindside your loved one. Include them in the planning process.
- Mention the safety of other people. They might be more receptive to a focus on the safety of others rather than themselves.
- Treat them like an adult. Make sure to communicate that you know your parent wants to do the right thing, because they are a responsible adult.
- Prepare for objections. Think about how to deal with arguments such as, “But I only drive close to home for a few necessary errands.”
- Be sensitive about how they are going to feel. Let them know that you know this is not an easy choice to make.
- Enlist family and friends. See if you can line up family members or friends to help them get out and about. You want to make sure your loved one doesn’t feel trapped and that they know there are options.
- Use alternative modes of transportation. Depending on the senior’s health and abilities, rideshare or taxi services might be helpful. There might also be a variety of transportation services for seniors in your community. During the transition, see if someone can ride along with your family member to help them get used to the idea.
We’d all like to think that mom or dad will come to us and say, “You know, honey, I think I’d be better off not driving anymore. Here are my car keys.” But as we age and slowly give up things we once did with ease, being able to drive is a sign of freedom that is nearly impossible to give up without a good nudge. So when encouraging a loved one to turn in their keys, be sensitive. Be kind. But also be firm when the time comes to have this discussion. While it’s not an easy talk to have, it is really an act of love.
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