Driving: The Conversation

Driving is a human privilege, which for most, has become a regular part of life.  As we age and our physical and mental skills deteriorate, activities such as driving not only become more difficult, but they can be dangerous. Determining when your senior should hang up the car keys is crucial and understanding how to approach the subject can alter the way your senior handles this change.

The Stats
Safety is paramount when discussing older citizens and driving.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2012, there were 5,560 people 65 and older killed and 214,000 injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes. The older population segment (65+) made up 17 percent of all traffic fatalities and 9 percent of all people injured in traffic crashes during the year.  Per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase noticeably starting at ages 70‒74 and are highest among drivers age 85 and older. 

Additionally, in 2012 there were roughly 36 million licensed older drivers – a 34% increase from 1999. By the year 2030, The Automobile Association of America (AAA) predicts that there will be 70 million Americans over the over of 65 and that 85-90% of them will possess a driver’s license.  Another telling statistic is that those who have experienced a fall are found to be 40% more likely to be involved in a vehicle incident or accident. Considering all the data and research, it is easy to understand the importance of keeping tabs on our senior drivers and making sure they are safe (and able) enough to drive their vehicles.

Driving the Conversation
This could be one of the most difficult conversations you will have with your parent. Or, it could be much easier. The conversation, as is true with many other important talks, needs to be finessed, using careful word choice, a calm demeanor and a gentle tone.  The aging individual may become confused, stubborn or even angry.  Maintaining your position as a loving caregiver and family member will typically be enough to convince them. In difficult instances, you may need to take away the vehicle altogether. Finally, the most important step in this conversation comes last: make a plan.

Providing Options
Seniors don’t have to lose their independence after they stop driving.  Pierce County and King County both provide public transportation services for seniors with the appropriate reservations (link).  There are also special ride sharing apps (such as Uber or Lyft) in nearly every metropolitan area, providing a safe ride in only minutes. Going one step further, Lift Hero, based in San Francisco, schedules rides specifically for seniors via email, phone or text. This includes not only the ride, but help transferring in/out of the vehicle and getting into the building.  Senior-centric car services will likely emerge in other regions in the future. If none of these options work for your family, it is important to make yourself available for your loved-one or consider hiring a caregiver. An In-home caregiver is an option that fulfills transportation along with many other needs. This certified professional will provide a ride whenever it is needed, along with caring for the person within their home. Maintaining a connection with the outside world is important for seniors without driving privileges. It will keep them happier, longer.

Published on August 1, 2017.