Older Driver Safety Awareness Week

elder-woman-drivingThe first week of December is designated as Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. Organizations dedicated to supporting seniors use this week as an opportunity to help educate caregivers, adult children and the community at large about the challenges aging creates for older drivers. For an adult child, this can be an emotionally difficult topic to tackle.

The conversation about an aging parent’s safety behind the wheel can be one of the most difficult ones to have. For most of us, driving represents independence. Just the suggestion that it might be time to stop can create anxiety.

Aging and Driving Fitness

One of the struggles families and law enforcement agencies face when trying to assess if a senior is safe behind the wheel is how difficult it is to establish criteria. Everyone ages differently. Some people remain active and fit well in to their eighties, while others with chronic health conditions or other physical impairments may be unfit for driving in their sixties. 

There are, however, common physical changes caused by aging that puts senior drivers at greater risk behind the wheel. These typically include vision changes, slower reflexes and reaction time, and decreased muscle strength and flexibility. Medication side effects can also create problems. 

When to Put the Brakes on a Senior Loved One’s Driving

If you are trying to decide whether or not your aging parent or senior loved one is a safe driver, here are a few tips to help you make that determination:

  • Take a look at the condition of their car. Is their bumper full of scratches, scrapes and dents? It may be from bumping in to curbs, their garage and even other cars.
  • Spend time riding with them. It is best to do this during both daylight hours and after dark. Are the keeping up with traffic? Driving too slow or too fast? Are they able to maintain their own lane? Do they pay attention to stop signs and traffic signals? Are they observing right-of-way rules?
    • Consider what health conditions they may live with and what medications they take. You also need to factor in if they have had a vision test lately.
    • AAA offers an Interactive Driving Evaluation at no cost on their website. They also give you the option of emailing them to request a free CD be sent to you or directly to your senior loved one.  The 30 minute test incorporates eight areas that evaluate a driver’s safety.  Topics range from how fast they process visual information to how strong their legs are.

Learn More about Older Driver Safety

If you would like to learn more about older adults behind the wheel, the American Association of Occupational Therapists has some great information on their website. Topics and resources cover driving aids for older adults, having the tough conversation, and more.