Should Seniors Be Driving?

How to navigate the conversation.

By Anthony Cirillo, Contributor
U.S. News & World Report

PRINCE PHILIP, WHO’S 97, was recently involved in a car crash that injured two women and prompted a debate on older drivers in Britain. Two days after the accident, he was photographed driving a Land Rover and not wearing a seatbelt. Of course, that reignited a debate about seniors and driving.

An Emotionally Charged Issue

What if I told you that tomorrow, just for a day, you would all of a sudden not have a car available? What if I said a week? You can start to see how your independence would be affected.

A car represents different things to people: a way to get to places for some; status and identity for others; freedom and spontaneity. What it represents also says a lot about how you approach the situation.

Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you have to stop driving. We see so many distracted driving accidents from much younger people on phones or texting, and that’s not representative of how seniors drive.

Spotting Problems

If you’re geographically close by, the best thing is to observe directly. In other words, go for a ride-along. Buckle up!

Distinguish between serious signs of trouble and those that are less so. For example, confusing the gas with the brake is serious. Riding the brake is perhaps less serious. If a problem is serious, take immediate action. If it’s less so, observe over time, take notes and look for a consistent pattern. These facts will help when having a conversation.

Things to look for:

  • Struggling to change lanes.
  • Problems turning, particularly with left turns.
  • Driving too slow or too fast.
  • Reaction time.
  • Other drivers honking.
  • Hitting curbs.
  • Following signals.
  • Scrapes on cars.

Often, older adults will start self-correcting, not driving at night, in bad weather and on freeways. My mom started going places by making all right hand turns. Praise these behaviors, but also take them as a sign that things might be changing.

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