There’s no hard rule about the age at which a driver should give up their license. In fact, a 2021 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found the total number of fatal crashes involving drivers aged 70 and over has declined significantly since the mid-1990s. However, the risk of a serious or fatal accident does begin to rise from age 70 onward and peaks among drivers 85 and older, due to declining physical capabilities, cognitive decline, and various medical conditions.
For many older drivers, their vehicle serves as a form of independence and sometimes even a source of pride, so this is a sensitive subject. They may not realize or want to acknowledge that there’s a problem. So how can you tell if a loved one is still safe behind the wheel, and how should you broach the issue?
Some signs an older driver should limit or stop driving include:
- Feeling nervous or fearful while driving
- Driving too slow, too fast, or at erratic speeds
- Having trouble changing lanes and merging
- Routinely getting lost (especially in familiar areas)
- Having trouble paying attention to signals, road signs, and pavement markings
- Responding slowly to unexpected situations
- Experiencing frequent near misses
- Having trouble judging traffic gaps at intersections
- Having trouble seeing the sides of the road when looking straight ahead
- Having a hard time concentrating while driving
More obvious signs, such as vehicle damage, frequent traffic tickets, or collisions may warrant more immediate intervention.
How to Discuss Giving Up Their License
As with any sensitive subject, lead with compassion and be sensitive to your loved one’s underlying fears about surrendering their driver’s license. Ask how you can help, rather than making demands. You can frame the conversation as a concern about their vulnerability on the road or their ability to protect passengers (such as their spouse or grandchildren) from other, more aggressive drivers. If they’re resistant to suggestions that their driving may be unsafe, ask them to complete a self-assessment questionnaire from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or an online or classroom safety course for older drivers. You could also ask your loved one’s physician to discuss the topic at their next appointment.
Being aware of the warning signs, and having early discussions about these issues, may provide opportunities for some older drivers to keep driving safely, for longer. If they have the financial resources to purchase or lease a newer car with safety features and driver assistance technology – such as lane departure warnings, backup cameras, proximity alerts, automatic braking, and self parking – these can greatly aid in safer driving. Or having them agree to common-sense limitations based on their capabilities – such as not driving after dark if their night vision is poor, not driving extended distances, and not driving in unfamiliar areas – can be an easy, low-cost way to avoid more dangerous situations.
It’s Not All Bad News
If and when you or your loved one agrees that it’s time to stop driving, there are many alternative ways to get around. Help set up a local taxi, Lyft, or Uber account on their smartphone and teach them how to use it. Walk them through the process of ordering groceries online and having them delivered. Find out if their community offers free transportation services for seniors, and learn about that process. And while selling or donating their beloved car may be emotional, it will save them several thousand dollars per year on gas, insurance, and maintenance.
Keep up with the Brightwater Senior Living blog for more useful information about senior health, safety, and lifestyles.