Driving Safety as a Family Member Ages

 

Older Woman Driving

 

General Information on Older Drivers

Older adults, like everyone else, value their independence. In the United States, there are many areas where that independence is tied into the ability to drive.

For many families, there comes a time when an older family member's driving becomes an issue. There are many reasons why a person's driving skills might decline. Diminished eyesight, slowed reflexes and reaction times, shorter attention span, lack of concentration, medications - these and many more may contribute to family concerns about the safety of an older driver and the safety of the community.

For families, it can be very difficult to discuss this issue since the underlying theme is independence and self-sufficiency. Caregivers don't want to upset the family member. Many don't want the inevitable conflict that will come of the discussion. And, who in the family wants to be the "bad guy"?

How do you determine when a family member shouldn't drive? Do they just need a driver refresher course? What if a crisis situation has yet to occur? How do you initiate the discussion? How do you ensure that the issue gets successfully resolved? What are your obligations to protect the safety of your family member and others on the road? Who is available to help you?

We have put together a list of websites that offer relevant information to help you with this delicate issue. The synopsis of each site can help you decide where to go first.

If you still feel uncomfortable with your choices or if you feel that you need professional assistance, caregiver specialists are available to help.

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Driver Education for the Older Adult

Your family member may just need a refresher driver education class. AARP has designed a course specifically for drivers 50 years of age and older.

Many states mandate a multi-year reduction in car insurance rates after successful completion of the course.

They teach defensive driving techniques, how age related changes can affect driving, and more.

There is no test. For more information go to the AARP website or call 1-888-227-7669.

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Finding Alternative Transportation

What do you do if you and your older family member have agreed that he or she shouldn't drive?

One option might be a Supplemental Transportation Program. These are typically local programs designed to help non-driving seniors stay mobile and engaged in their communities. They may or may not be available in your community. Typically, the services provide door-to-door transportation. Your Caregiver Specialist can help you locate a program in your area. Your Caregiver Specialist will also know if there are other specialized programs that are being tested in your area.

 

Mass transit may not be everyone's first choice, but it is a viable option. If you are concerned, contact the program in your state and find out what type of training drivers are given in assisting older riders. Ride the potential routes to see if there are any potential hazards at the stops such as the lack of a covered sitting area. Arrange to accompany your family member on their first few trips to help acquaint them with procedures and safety issues.

 

Paratransit services are for those with disabilities who are not able to ride fixed-route buses. Paratransit services typically pick you up at your doorstep and take you to where you need to go. There will be an application process to make sure the person qualifies. Use the link below to find available programs. Search the sites for "paratransit", "ADA", "disabled", or "handicapped" to locate paratransit services.

 

Senior Transportation Programs are designed specifically to assist seniors in making needed essential trips such as to medical appointments, the bank, the grocery store, etc. Some provide transport to local senior centers. The service may be free, be on a cost-sharing basis, or have a set fee. Providers of these services may be local government, local non-profits, churches, volunteer groups or others. They may be "on demand" providing door-to-door service that you ask for; they may be set routes; they may be certain days; they may utilize a combination of available transportation services overseen by one organization or group. Your local Caregiver Specialist or Area Agency on Aging will know.

 

As a caregiver, you might also consider whether or not you could organize volunteers to provide rides for your family member to specific events such as doctor appointments, grocery shopping, church, etc. There are free online services to help you do that.

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Medications and Driving

Medications, even those available over-the-counter, can be a serious threat to safe driving. According to the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, drivers who fell asleep while driving were 4-5 times more likely to be taking medications. When a warning label says "Do not use while operating heavy equipment", that includes driving a car. The warning is there to alert you to the dangers of drowsiness and slower reflex times.

Some medications have ingredients added to negate the "drowsy" effect. However, for some people, those additions may make a person jittery or hyper. In that case, a person may over-respond in a driving situation and they may be more likely to speed.

If your family member is taking medication, encourage them to use alternate forms of transportation. Check with a pharmacist or doctor if you have any questions about a medication.

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Alzheimer's and Driving

Caregivers of a family member with Alzheimer's have an even more difficult challenge. In the beginning stages of Alzheimer's, a person may not admit that there is anything wrong though family members notice changes. Caregivers for these family members are having to deal with multiple issues at the same time. Driving is just one. To help you deal with this issue, we have selected websites dealing specifically with Alzheimer's and driving and compiled them for you.

 

Alzheimer's Association on Driving
they discuss how to know if a person is not driving safely and how to prevent an Alzheimer's patient from driving.
(3/2010)

Alzheimer's, Dementia, & Driving (Hartford Insurance)
a study, compiled into excellent advice for caregivers. Hartford Financial Services Group, in collaboration with the MIT Age Lab and Connecticut Community Care, conducted in-depth interviews with caregivers and people with dementia to learn how families perceive and manage driving and transportation issues when a person has dementia. The study was initiated because most information about dementia warns against driving, but does not describe how individuals and caregivers can determine when to stop. The information would be helpful for any caregiver dealing with the issue of driving.
(3/2010)

Alzheimer's - When to Stop Driving
the Mayo Clinic discusses the driving issue in general, the warning signs of unsafe driving and how a caregiver can manage this discussion. They also discuss pre-emptive strategies.
(3/2010)

Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists
a non-profit established in 1977 to support professionals working in the field of driver education and driver training and to promote transportation equipment modifications for persons with disabilities. They offer specialists who can make driving assessments to determine if a person should continue to drive.
(3/2010)

Alzheimer's and Driving Fact Sheet

Departments of Motor Vehicles
Your state Department of Motor Vehicles may offer specific information about health and driving including guidelines for determining if a person can legally continue to drive. These guidelines may offer a caregiver additional information to use when having a discussion about driving ability with a family member. An example is given below from California.
(3/2010)

Dementia Driver Safety Information

Dementia Consolidation Table

Physical and Mental Evaluation Guidelines

State laws vary so check with your Department of Motor Vehicles. If you don't find what you need on the website, call a local office and inquire.

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Websites Related to Older Drivers

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
a not-for-profit, publicly-supported charitable educational and research organization dedicated to discovering the causes of traffic crashes.
(3/2010)

FAQs About Having A Discussion About Driving
By Alexis Abramson, Ph.D., author of The Caregiver's Survival Handbook: How to Care for Your Aging Parent Without Losing Yourself
(3/2010)

Free Brochures
research conducted has been compiled into educational materials available to the public. Some are available online as well as being in hard copy.
(3/2010)

  • How to Handle Glare for Safer Driving at Night
  • How to Help an Older Driver
  • The Older and Wiser Driver
  • How to Avoid Drowsy Driving
  • Drivers 55 Plus: Test Your Own Performance
  • A Flexibility Fitness Training Package for Improving Older Driver Performance

Supplemental Transportation Listings By State
a listing, by state, of supplemental transportation opportunities identified by the Mobilizer Project designed to offer transportation to seniors who cannot access regular transportation and those who should no longer be driving. These supplemental transportation opportunities are being organized by a variety of organizations and groups, including congregations and interfaith communities. Remember, though, that if service is not listed for your area, that does not mean that none is available. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for current local options.
(3/2010)

Senior Drivers Website
developed to help drivers stay safely behind the wheel as many years as possible. The premise is that since road conditions change and senior drivers have changing physical conditions, there is a need to continue to work to improve driving skills and drive responsibly. This excellent site has online videos as well as web content on various driving skills needed such as: mirrors, adjusting the headrest, rental cars, how keeping fit can help you drive more safely, how to yield or merge or follow street directions, what to do if you are in a crash, how to handle a long trip, and much more.
(3/2010)

Senior Licensing Laws
Brieflyindicates state laws for senior drivers. Click on state then scroll to Senior Licensing Laws category.
(3/2010)

AARP's Driver Safety Program
Your family member may just need a refresher driver education class. AARP has designed a course specifically for drivers 50 years of age and older. Many states mandate a multi-year reduction in car insurance rates after successful completion of the course. They teach defensive driving techniques, how age related changes can affect driving, and more. There is no test. For more information go to the AARP website or call 1-888-227-7669.
(9/2010)

Alzheimer's Association on Driving
they discuss how to know if a person is not driving safely and how to prevent an Alzheimer's patient from driving.
(3/2010)

Alzheimer's, Dementia, & Driving (Hartford Insurance)
a study, compiled into excellent advice for caregivers. Hartford Financial Services Group, in collaboration with the MIT Age Lab and Connecticut Community Care, conducted in-depth interviews with caregivers and people with dementia to learn how families perceive and manage driving and transportation issues when a person has dementia. The study was initiated because most information about dementia warns against driving, but does not describe how individuals and caregivers can determine when to stop. The information would be helpful for any caregiver dealing with the issue of driving.
(3/2010)

Alzheimer's - When to Stop Driving
the Mayo Clinic discusses the driving issue in general, the warning signs of unsafe driving and how a caregiver can manage this discussion. They also discuss pre-emptive strategies.
(3/2010)

Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists
a non-profit established in 1977 to support professionals working in the field of driver education and driver training and to promote transportation equipment modifications for persons with disabilities. They offer specialists who can make driving assessments to determine if a person should continue to drive.
(3/2010)

Fact Sheets
(3/2010)

  • Driving after a Stroke
  • Driving and Alzheimer's / Dementia
  • Driving after a Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Driving after a Spinal Cord Injury
  • Driving with Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Driving with Multiple Sclerosis
  • Driving after a Limb Amputation
  • Aging and Driving
  • Driving and Spina Bifida
  • Driving and Cerebral Palsy

DriveABLE
an Edmonton, Alberta based company that offers driver evaluation for medically at-risk drivers. A trained professional guides the driver through a number of computer-based tests that assess mental and motor skills relevant to safe driving. If questions of competence remain, a road test has been developed to reveal errors made by drivers who are unsafe because of medical conditions, while allowing safe drivers to pass the test. Currently, offices are limited (list online).
(3/2010)

Driver Licensing Renewal Procedures for Older Drivers
offers a state-by-state listing of renewal procedures for older drivers by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Procedures include accelerated renewal cycles that provide for shorter renewal intervals for drivers older than a specified age, typically 65 or 70; a requirement that they renew their licenses in person rather than electronically or by mail where remote renewal is permitted; and testing that is not routinely required of younger drivers. These special renewal procedures for older drivers apply in addition to the license renewal procedures that exist in all states for dealing with licensed drivers of any age who no longer meet the standards for licensure because of physical or mental infirmities.
(3/2010)

Easter Seals - National Center on Senior Transportation
The National Center on Senior Transportation is funded through a cooperative agreement with the US Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, with guidance from the US Administration on Aging. NCST is administered by Easter Seals in partnership with the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. The goal of the site is to help caregivers and seniors become more familiar with transportation options.
(3/2010)

Family Conversations With Older Drivers (Hartford Insurance)
Hartford Insurance and the MIT AgeLab developed information to help families initiate productive and caring conversations with older adults about driving safety. These suggestions are based on research with drivers over the age of 50 using a survey, focus groups, and interviews with family caregivers of persons with dementia. The worksheet below is part of the brochure.
(3/2010)

Warning Signs for Older Drivers Worksheet
a worksheet offering a checklist of driving behaviors of concern.
(3/2010)

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
has updated their website to offer a wealth of information for both caregivers and older drivers. They help aging individuals recognize their changing abilities and adapt their transportation practices appropriately. There are screening tools, information on the impact of medications and reduced mobility on driving, how to have the discussions, how to recognize the warning signs that there is an issue, and much more.
(8/2010)

National Institute on Aging - Older Drivers
offers causes of age related driving problems, smart driving tips, how to assess whether or not to continue to drive, and discusses how to manage after giving up the privilege to drive.
(3/2010)

National Institute on Safe Aging - Motor Vehicle and Pedestrian Safety
providing a wealth of links to pamphlets on driving as related to seniors. Formerly the National Resource Center on Aging and Injury, the focus of the site is on safety in various categories of functioning.
(3/2010)

National Academy on an Aging Society
a research organization whose goal is to enhance the quality of debates about the challenges and opportunities of an aging population by presenting findings from the policy and academic communities in language aimed at the general reader. They have compiled the drivers re-licensing laws for each state.
(3/2010)

Older Driver Re-licensing Laws By State

Physician's Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers
a guide developed by the American Medical Association in cooperation with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to provide physicians with information about older driver safety and assessment, how to counsel older drivers who should no longer be driving, tips for involving the family, how to help the older driver adjust to not driving, etc. The guide even offers draft letters to the patient related to his/her driving and discusses offering a "prescription" for not driving. Legal and ethical responsibilities are also addressed. This guide is available online and in hard copy. Caregivers can use this guide to work with their family member's doctor.
(3/2010)

"When You Are Concerned" Handbook for Families and Friends
online handbook for families, friends and caregivers worried about the safety of an aging driver. It was developed by the Older Driver Family Assistance Project of the New York State Office for the Aging.
(3/2010)

Departments of Motor Vehicles
Your state Department of Motor Vehicles may offer specific information about health and driving including guidelines for determining if a person can legally continue to drive. These guidelines may offer a caregiver additional information to use when having a discussion about driving ability with a family member. An example is given below from California.
(3/2010)

Dementia Driver Safety Information

Dementia Consolidation Table

Physical and Mental Evaluation Guidelines

Vision Conditions

Medical Conditions and Traffic Safety

State laws vary so check with your Department of Motor Vehicles. If you don't find what you need on the website, call a local office and inquire.

 

 

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