Warning Signs for Senior Driving

Written by Audrey Adelson

January 27, 2012


Old age doesn’t imply a need to take away a person’s driver’s license, but it does mean that we should pay attention to warning signs and protect those we love (and those in their path). Below is some helpful advice for ways you can help reduce the risk of an accident and encourage safety with the elderly important in your life.

1. Learn about ways aging affects a person’s ability to drive and control a car.

Aging tends to result in reduced strength, coordination and flexibility. Factors such as decreased vision, impaired hearing, or slowed reflexes can become problematic over time. Some chronic conditions improve over time, but others gradually worsen. Adults who have suffered a stroke or other sudden health change may need to make temporary or permanent changes when it comes to driving.

2. Recognize warning signs that a person’s driving may be unsafe.

Changes in a person’s health are often a part of the aging process for many people. It is important to monitor changes or conflicts in medication, vision, hearing, reflexes, range of motion and memory. You may be concerned about an elderly person’s ability to coordinate the driving of a car and navigating the roads at the same time, or notice them having some close calls or actual accidents or receiving traffic citations.

3. Protect them while they are driving.

Be sure your loved one has regular health check-ups and wears required glasses and/or hearing aids. Remove any distractions that you can such as hand-held cell phones and radios. Make necessary modifications to their automobile, be sure the car is in working order at all times, discuss medication side-effects and interactions with doctors, and be sure that they are getting adequate sleep.

4. Help your senior adjust to life without driving.

Enlighten your loved one as to ways they can save money and what they could do with that extra cash. Help them see how it could provide them with an opportunity to get a little exercise or expand their network of friends. Share information about sustainability and that “everyone is doing it” – it is not just about them getting older.

5. Carefully express your concerns with this person and be sure they are aware of their limitations.

For those of you that have ever tried this, you know, this is much easier said than done. Driving is a very sensitive issue for seniors and it is often viewed by them as a sign of independence and self-sufficiency. When you attempt to remove this privilege, it is often seen by them as a sign that they are weak and incapable of caring for themselves. Your loved one may become angry with you. You must remember that safety comes first.

Here are some tips to help you talk with an elderly loved one about their driving:

  1. Discuss your concerns respectfully, but don’t back down if you are truly concerned.
  2. Site concrete examples rather than making general comments.
  3. Seek help from others – family members, doctors, clergy, care manager, driving specialist, etc.
  4. Research and find alternatives to driving a car.
  5. Show empathy while sharing your concerns.

This article would not be on our website if we didn’t know how difficult it was to discuss driving concerns with a senior. It is not uncommon for a driver to refuse to give up their keys. Lots of people have stories they can share with you about what their experience was like when they tried to address their safety, but help is available. It is important to always remember that for the safety of your loved one and the safety of those around them, you must not allow an unsafe driver on the road and you must do something. They could kill or serious injure themselves or someone else.

For additional help and resources:

Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists

American Occupational Therapy Association

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

AARP Driver Safety

Dementia and Driving

Older Driver Safety Conversations

How to Help an Older Driver: AAA Guide for Planning Safe Transportation

Getting Around – Alternatives for Seniors Who No Longer Drive

GA State ID (in place of Driver’s License)