Driving a car may feel like second nature, but aging may affect your reflexes, eyesight, cognition, and overall safety at the wheel. Drivers 80 and older also have the highest rates of automobile deaths, according to AAA.
Determining whether to take the keys away from elderly parents can be an emotional process — but there are ways to make it easier. By having conversations and detecting the warning signs now, you can better protect your mom and dad, as well as others on the road.
Discover the risks of senior driving, signs your parent is unsafe behind the wheel, elderly driver’s license renewal regulations, and how to potentially make a difficult conversation a little easier.
Many activities in our daily lives involve some degree of risk — and driving is no different. But for seniors, health conditions and other age-related factors can increase the risk of accidents.
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Compared to drivers age 24-64, older adults are twice as likely to report having a medical problem that makes it difficult to travel, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In 2018, about 19% of all traffic fatalities were people older than 65, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA). While injuries and crashes are more common in young drivers, older people are more susceptible to driving-related fatalities, according to AAA.
If your parent is struggling with their sight, hearing, or memory, driving may put them and others at risk. The NHTSA recommends finding out whether your parent:
Changes in health or demeanor could also be risk factors. A mental or physical decline can cause a driver to lose focus or control of the vehicle.
Warning signs include:
Every driver is different — regardless of age. Some 60-year-olds may have poor vision and other health issues, while some 80-year-olds are perfectly healthy and safe on the road.
Consider the following factors when making a decision:
Each state has different driving laws for seniors. Some states require an eye exam every five years, while others require senior citizens to retake their driving test.
The driver’s license renewal process for seniors can include a:
Many states — but not all — require people 65 and older to renew their driver’s license in person rather than online or by mail. This enables licensing officials to look for signs of health conditions that could affect their driving ability.
Generally, older drivers must renew their license more frequently than younger people. In Missouri, for example, people age 70 and above are required to renew their driver’s license every three years.
In addition to state driving tests, you can check for potential warning signs at home. It can be helpful to make observations during different times of the day, in varying weather conditions, and in traffic.
Here are a couple ways to give yourself a gut check.
Be a passenger in your elderly parent’s car on a regular basis. Check to see how they control the vehicle, and ask yourself:
Does the car have dents or scrapes? This is often a good indicator of how your elderly parent is driving and whether they’ve had any collisions.
Remember that this at-home test can be a fun outing, rather than an interrogation. By taking a trip to the store, you can quietly make observations without being intimidating. The NHTSA also has a self-assessment for senior drivers you can use to look for signs to help your parents.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask for a professional opinion. If you notice potential warning signs, but you aren’t completely sure if you should take the car keys away, consider talking to:
Staying proactive in your parent’s driving journey can make a big difference, and there are many flexible and alternative ways to help.
Here are some additional ways to keep your elderly parents safe:
If you notice changes in your parents’ driving ability or overall health, talk to them. AAA recommends these tips:
Driving is one of the most powerful symbols of independence — no one wants to give up their freedom. Parents often hand over their keys to their teenage children, and experiencing role reversal later in life can be difficult.
Have conversations, look for signs, plan ahead, and — if the time comes for you to take the keys away from your elderly parents — be prepared and commit to what’s best. Remain empathetic, and use A Place for Mom’s constructive conversational tips about how to take car keys away from an elderly parent.
Merritt Whitely is an editor at A Place for Mom. She developed health content for seniors at Hearing Charities of America and the National Hearing Aid Project. She’s also managed multiple print publications, blogs, and social media channels for seniors as the marketing manager at Sertoma, Inc.