Concerns about Senior Drivers: Is Mom in Denial? Are You?

More often than not, when families come to us with a driving-related crisis, they’ve been seeing signs. However, they may have felt Mom or Dad was okay because they only drove locally. Or, perhaps they put in place other safety precautions. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of your parents telling you everything is fine. As their child, it can be difficult to tell them you don’t think it is.

Driving is a key part of everyday life for most Americans. How do you get to the store or church or to see your friends and family if you can’t drive your car? The ability to instantly move from home to wherever you want to go gives a powerful feeling of independence for most older people. But, maybe you’ve seen little concerns. And, you have begun to fear more serious problems happening. What if someone is injured?

Here are seven common ways we see senior drivers denying that they can’t drive anymore:

1. Mom gets lost or turned around on familiar routes. 

However, thus far she has managed to find her way in the end. So, she brushes off the idea that there is a problem. Unfortunately, the next time she gets turned around she may not find her way back. And, this is a clear sign that Mom may be having difficulties that could cause numerous problems handling the complex task of driving.

2. You notice scratches or dents on the car. Or, the bumper shows telltale signs.

This could indicate problems with depth perception or sight. However, it can be the surface evidence of many issues.

3. Mom limits her driving. For example, she never drives after dark or only within her town. 

While modifications can be a useful way to continue doing tasks safely, be sure to look deeper. Is this a first step toward not being able to drive or should Mom have already stopped? How will she and you determine when driving isn’t safe even with modifications? Such restrictions can create a false sense of security and allow Mom to continue denying she should give up the car.

4. Senior drivers who drive much slower than normal traffic may be fearful. 

They may realize they have delayed reactions. And, their slow driving can be both a sign and a potential problem. Driving too fast is well known to be dangerous, but driving too slow can be hazardous too.

5. Mom has certain medical conditions or impairments. 

Senior drivers must get a vision test when they renew their licenses in Florida (after age 80). However, hearing loss, balance problems, certain medical conditions, and medications might also affect driving safety.

6. Your loved one has trouble remembering or completing multi-step tasks. 

Driving is a complex cognitive task, requiring memory, using multiple senses and processing complex information, following various steps, and more. Most people with dementia will need to stop driving at some point. Often, they may seem to be managing but it only takes one small problem on the road to lead to a crisis. That’s when we get the call that a parent is missing (or has been found way out of their area) or has been in an accident.

7. They’ve had several “fender benders” but they blame other drivers, traffic conditions, or minimize the issue.

While they may be completely correct that other drivers are at fault, that’s just one more consideration in whether or not it’s safe for the elder to continue driving. Roads are filled with potential hazards. Driving requires quick reaction times and navigating changing conditions.

Are Senior Drivers a Danger?

Senior drivers are generally a safe group of drivers. However, various factors affect safe driving as we get older, such as those listed above.

According to the CDC, in 2018 almost 7,700 older adults (aged 65+) were killed in motor vehicle crashes, and more than 250,000 were treated in emergency departments for motor vehicle crash injuries. This means that each day, approximately 20 older adults are killed, and an additional 700 are injured in motor vehicle crashes.

Senior drivers (and passengers) are at greater risk of injury when in a crash, may have a long recovery period, and are likely to experience lasting impacts on their daily activity. Of course, senior drivers must also consider those they love who travel with them. And, the potential to harm others on the road.

What Can You Do to Determine if a Senior Driver Is Safe?

If you’ve noticed any of the signs listed above, don’t wait to take some action. At the same time, you don’t want to overdo it. And, you want to be sensitive to your older loved one. They may be experiencing a lot of loss. Their initial reaction may be anger when you bring up driving concerns. It is likely they’ll have a lot of fear and worries around this issue.

Additionally, once the problem is clear, the solution isn’t as simple as “taking away the car keys”. Isolation and depression are serious issues for older adults. Whether they’ll give up driving now or start to put safety measures into place, you’ll need a plan.

Our team has tackled this issue with hundreds of families. We’re here to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us anytime. You can contact us online or at 727-447-5845/813-333-5020. In the meantime, take the first steps toward action (and peace of mind). We provide a senior drivers’ assessment that will help you determine if it’s time to get help with making some decisions and plans:

Should your parent still be driving?