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A Talk with An Elder Driver

The population of people age 65 and older is the fastest growing demographic in the United States. Many of these older adults will be drivers. Right now, there are more than 30 million licensed drivers age 65 or older.
People between ages 25 and 75 have relatively low crash involvement. After age 75, risk increases because motorists may have health conditions or take medications that negatively affect their driving abilities.
Drivers may be unaware of these changes or unwilling to admit challenges to themselves or others, including family members. In the case of people with cognitive impairments, like dementia, they may be unable to recognize poor performance.

Many family members and caregivers wonder what to do when they think a loved one’s driving skills have diminished. Or, they may not know how to assess one’s driving abilities. They may dread approaching an older adult to discuss the need to modify driving habits or stop driving.

Older adults and their loved ones and caregivers should take a realistic, ongoing inventory of the driver’s skills and openly discuss them. Family members need to remember that many older drivers view driving as a form of independence. Bringing up the subject can make some people defensive, angry, hurt, or withdrawn. Be prepared with observations and questions, listen with an open mind, and be ready to offer transportation alternatives.
You may need to talk with an older driver if you answer “yes” to any of the following questions.

  • Does he or she get lost on routes that should be familiar?
  • Have you noticed new dents, scratches, or other damage to his or her vehicle?
  • Has he or she been warned or ticketed by a police officer for poor driving?
  • Has he or she experienced a close call or crash recently?
  • Has a doctor advised him or her to limit or stop driving for health reasons?
  • Is he or she overwhelmed by road signs, signals, markings, or other things while driving?
  • Does he or she take any medication that might affect the capacity to drive safely?
  • Does he or she stop inappropriately or drive too slowly, preventing the safe flow of traffic?
  • Does he or she suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, glaucoma, cataracts, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, or another condition that may affect driving skills?

If you need to start a conversation about driving safety, it is important to be caring, respectful, and non-confrontational. Show genuine concern and understanding, and offer alternatives that will not injure the older driver’s self-respect and sense of independence. You might also consider riding with an older driver to observe, encouraging a vision and hearing evaluation, or suggesting a driving safety class. You and/or the older driver can also discuss concerns with a physician, who may have recommendations.

The good news is that, depending on the severity of the problem, older drivers may be able to adjust their driving habits to increase safety. For example, they may limit driving to daylight hours and good weather, or avoid highways and high-traffic areas.

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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
TTY: 1-800-424-9153

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Last Modified: 10/15/2015 10:32:55 AM