Odds are, at around 16 years of age, your parents handed you the keys to your very first car. It is a day most of us never forget. Even if it was just a cheap car, it was ugly, and it didn't run all that great, it still meant you had your freedom. Now many years later, you are faced with the decision to have a talk with your parents about their ability to drive. As cruel as it seems, you are in the unenviable position to take away freedom from the very people who gave you yours.
With the average age of the population rising every year, this issue is going to continue to get worse. Children do not want to have to deal with this, and the parents often resist losing their ability to get out of the house.
By the Numbers
- In 2019, there were 54.1 million drivers (16% of the U.S. population) on the road age 65 and older. Source: NHTSA
- In 2019, 7,214 people 65 years of age and older were killed in car crashes. That's 20% of all traffic deaths that year. Source: NHTSA
- Among the older population, the traffic fatality rate per 100,000 licensed drivers in 2019 was highest for the 80-to-84 age group. Source: NHTSA
- In 2019, according to the NHTSA, most traffic fatalities in crashes involving older drivers occurred during:
- Daytime (72%)
- Weekdays (69%)
- And involved other vehicles (66%).
There are a number of signs your Mom or Dad should not be driving. Sometimes it is a good idea to have them drive somewhere while you visit them and monitor their motoring skills. There are other signs to look for as well:
- Do a visual inspection of your parent's vehicle(s), looking for dents and dings, and wheel damage from hitting curbs.
- Also, inspect the area where vehicles are parked, looking for damage to fences, garages, or carports to see if they have been run into accidentally.
- When you take a ride with your parents, look for reaction time to traffic devices. Watch for motoring skills, like not being able to turn around to check lane changes, and pay attention to how easily your parent can get off the accelerator and onto the brakes. Watch for your parents to make sure they can stay in their own lane, and that they obey speed limits.
- Also, watch to see if they are signaling their intentions to turn or change lanes. Not using turn signals, driving too slowly, and drifting out of their lane can create a road rage incident that could have deadly results.
- Finally, look for frustration or confusion on the part of your parents. This is often a sign that they know they probably should not be driving, but don't want to admit it.
If a parent seems like he or she is still OK to drive in your opinion, offer these helpful hints to them to perhaps keep them safe on the road:
- Make sure they are getting yearly eye exams. There are many illnesses that can cause your eyesight to fail, and sometimes it is just due to age. It is important that they see as well as possible if it means glasses or surgery.
- Encourage them to watch their overall health. Daily exercise, even in short durations will help with motoring skills. Working crossword puzzles or reading helps keep the mind sharp. Encourage your folks to make sure they get plenty of sleep, driver fatigue can come about quickly.
- Make sure they are in the right vehicle. There are a lot of new safety options with cars today. If they are driving a car over five years old and can afford it, talk to them about getting a car with blind spot monitoring, lane change alert, parking assist, automatic braking, and a vehicle with easy to read gauges.
- Talk to your parent(s) about what they are having trouble with, and encourage them to avoid those situations. It could be they have trouble in bright sunlight, or they don't see well at night. It could be freeway driving that unnerves them, in which case many navigation systems can be set to avoid freeway driving. Encourage your Mom or Dad to not drive in inclement weather if at all possible.
- Also, encourage your parent(s) to plan ahead any trips, even to the grocery store or mall. Non-traffic times will lessen the chance of them getting nervous or frustrating during their commute.
- Talk to your parent(s) about their medications. Do any of the meds have any side effects like drowsiness or dizziness? If so, they should be warned not to get behind the wheel of a car after taking pills. No matter how old someone is, a reminder not to drink and drive is always a good idea. Also, distracted driving can be a real problem for seniors since their reaction time has slowed.
Possibly the hardest decision you will face is if you must force your parent(s) to quit driving for their own good or the safety of innocent drivers. Speak to their Doctor and let him or her know your concerns. You can even anonymously notify the Department of Motor Vehicles or the agency that issues driver's licenses in their area. There are also driver assessment programs that will gauge whether a senior is capable of driving. Contact AAA or AARP for a recommendation. Often, your parent(s) will take the news better from an independent third party that they see as unbiased. Remember too, the lack of good driving skills by seniors is usually gradual, and your parent(s) may not realize what is happening to them, but odds are you'll see it immediately. If a parent is injured or worse in a car wreck, and you failed to act, it would be very difficult to live with.