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We have all heard stories of an impaired elderly driver causing accidents that harm people and damage property.  While age does change how we respond to stimuli, age does not automatically cause individuals to become so impaired they cannot drive. Not every older person is an unsafe driver.  However, you may have an elderly loved one who should stop driving due to impairment and safety concerns.

If you truly believe an elderly family member is an unsafe driver, address it immediately.  Understand the loss of the ability to drive often leaves individuals isolated and dependent on others.  Few people accept this loss without resistance.  Many elders, even those with impairments that make driving dangerous, strenuously resist the loss of their driving privileges because they are used to being independent and are unwilling to lose that.  When addressing driving with an elder, remember to approach the discussion with respect for their independence and an understanding of what they lose when they can no longer drive.

Talking to Your Loved One

First, try talking to your loved one about their driving habits and why they drive.  Many elders will say they only drive to the grocery store and to church.  If this is the case, discuss with them how you and your family can help keep them from being isolated so they can quit driving.  Mentioning the dangers faced by the elder when he/she drives is appropriate, but be sure not to be accusatory or demeaning.  Remember, the point of the discussion is to get your loved one to agree to stop driving not to admit they are wrong, dangerous, impaired, or harmful.

If talking to your loved one fails, organize a family meeting in which several family members come together to express their concerns or observations about the danger of your loved one continuing to drive.  This can include family members who have witnessed dangerous driving, family members who will not drive with the elder because they are an unsafe driver, and family members who are willing to assist the elder so he/she can give up driving.  Envision an intervention. Again, the goal is to get the elder to agree to stop driving, not admit they are wrong.

If a driving intervention fails, most states have a system through which family members or physicians can confidentially report anyone who is an impaired driver and the driver can be required to pass a driving test to continue to maintain his/her driver’s license.  For example, the Florida Department of Highway Safety has instructions on its website, including on-line forms, which guide individuals through the steps of reporting an impaired driver and the process by which a driver’s license is revoked.  Because the system takes time, it may be necessary to take steps to reduce or eliminate the elder’s opportunity to drive even if you have reported them as an impaired.

In emergencies where driving is a clear danger to your loved one or those on the road with him/her, take away the car keys or disable the car.  If you choose this option, remember the elder may be resourceful and may call on neighbors or professionals to assist in getting new car keys or to fix the car.  When removing the keys or disabling the car, make sure all family members and neighbors are aware that these actions have been taken and why to reduce the ability of your loved one to reclaim the vehicle and continue to drive.

For more information, visit the AARP’s safe driver information page  or Florida’s Grand Driver website.

Have you been through a similar experience in  your family or are you anticipating having to go through it?  What are your fears?  I encourage your posts!