When should senior drivers hand over the car keys?

FamilyFeaturedRetirementSenior Care

Written by:

When should senior drivers hand over the keys?

The average age seniors should stop driving varies for all individuals and depends more on their health and well-being than age. While older drivers are statistically safer than younger drivers, health conditions and other age-related factors can increase their risks of injury and death.[01]

Consider the following factors when evaluating how your elderly loved one’s health and abilities may contribute to their safety when driving:

  • Diseases. Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia can affect judgment and driving ability. If your parent has been diagnosed with a form of dementia or you’re noticing early signs of cognitive impairment, consult their physician. Seniors who are limited by complications of diabetes may also need to be cleared to drive by their physician.
  • Medications. Some prescription drugs can cause drowsiness or affect a person’s reaction time. Consult your parent’s physician to determine if their medications put them at risk. You can help them keep track by using the CDC’s medicine risk fact sheet.
  • Physical ability. Are your aging parents staying active? Driving takes control and dexterity. Inactivity can cause muscle deterioration, which can affect a person’s agility, coordination, and strength.
  • Vision and hearing. Do they suffer from cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, or macular degeneration? Do they mishear you or ask you to repeat yourself often? Vision problems and hearing impairments can cause your senior driver to miss visual or auditory cues to stop or slow down, making them a danger to themselves and others on the road.

Signs an elderly parent is not safe to drive

If your parent is experiencing changes with their vision, hearing, or memory, driving may put them and others at risk. The following signs may indicate that your parent is struggling to practice safe driving habits:[02]

  • Get lost on familiar routes
  • Receive tickets or violations
  • Have accidents or close calls
  • They have difficulty reading or recognizing road signs or hearing emergency sirens and honking

Changes in physical and mental health can also be risk factors for elderly drivers. Signs that a senior driver’s mental or physical health could make them unsafe behind the wheel include:

  • Forgetfulness or confusion
  • Leg pain or trouble walking
  • Dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Loss of coordination
  • Joint stiffness
  • Unusual agitation or aggression

When are senior drivers legally unfit to drive?

Each state has different driving laws for seniors. Some states require regular eye exams and others require senior citizens to take a driving test before renewing their license.

Many states 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 a senior’s driving ability. The elderly driver’s license renewal process for seniors may include the following:

  • Written test
  • Vision test
  • Driving test

Generally, elderly 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. Some states also require doctor’s to report a dementia diagnosis to their state’s depart of motor vehicles (DMV).

To check the elderly driver’s license renewal regulations where you live, review AAA’s state driving laws guide.

At home safety test for senior drivers

In addition to state driving tests, you can check for potential warning signs by doing a home driving test. Be a passenger in your elderly parent’s car on a regular basis, during different times of the day, in varying traffic and weather conditions. Observe their driving habits and safety precautions including the following:

  • Do they wear their seatbelt?
  • Do they stay in the correct lane?
  • How do they handle turns?
  • Do they use their turn signals?
  • Do they drive too slow or too fast?
  • Are they easily distracted?
  • Do they follow traffic lights and road signs?

The NHTSA’s self-assessment for senior drivers can also be a helpful tool for you and your parent. You can review it together or separately to gain a better understanding of how your parent interprets their driving skills.


Conduct routine vehicle checks

A good indicator of how your elderly parent is driving is to check their car for new scrapes and dents. You should also take note if they’ve received an increased number of traffic tickets and have been involved in more minor accidents or fender benders. The following signs of damage may offer evidence that your loved one’s ability to drive safely is deteriorating:

  • Dents
  • Broken headlight or tail light
  • Bent wheels or broken wheel covers
  • Scrapes
  • Paint marks that don’t match the car’s color
  • Broken side mirrors
  • Damaged parts hanging beneath the car


Seek professional advice about elderly drivers

  • If you notice potential warning signs, but you aren’t completely sure if your parent is a safe driver, ask for a professional opinion. Consider a consultation with the following medical professionals:
    • Primary care physician. Ask their doctor whether your parent’s health is good enough for them to drive safely. If the doctor says they shouldn’t be on the road, this may be a justified reason to take the keys away.
    • Driving rehabilitation expert. An expert can also assess senior cognition, hearing, and motor skills, and they can even make an on-road assessment. To find a driving rehabilitation expert, visit the American Occupational Therapy’s searchable database for certified driving specialists.


Additional considerations for senior driving safety

Staying proactive in your parent’s driving journey can make a big difference. Here are some additional ways to keep your elderly parents – and other drivers – safe:

  • Arrange for alternate transportation. Ride apps like Uber and Lyft make it easy to get a ride any day or time. Many senior living communities also provide regular transportation for seniors. The National Center on Senior Transportation has a full list of additional transportation options for seniors.
  • Make sure they have a good vehicle. Is their car safe and easy to use? Does it have reliable technology? If your parent has a disability, has the car been adapted to fit their needs? For example, a seat-back cushion can provide a better view of the road. Learn more about adapting your car for disabilities, and discover the safest cars for seniors.
  • Find a driving class for seniors. Local classes may be available to help keep your parent’s mind and motor skills sharp on the road. AAA offers a driving improvement coursefor seniors, which provides safety tips and covers medication, drowsiness, and other driving topics relevant to seniors.

Have regular conversations about driving safety

If you notice changes in your parents’ driving ability or overall health, talk to them. Use the following tips to help guide your conversations:[03]

  • Talk one-on-one. Sometimes getting the entire family involved can feel overwhelming. Set aside some quiet time to speak with your parent privately and directly. Consider asking your loved one at what point they feel it would be appropriate for you to talk about retiring from driving.
  • Be respectful. Avoid making generalizations or saying, “You’re a bad driver.” Let them know you’re supportive and want to find ways to help them stay safe and independent.
  • Avoid assumptions. Focus on the facts. If they have a medical condition that’s affecting their safety at the wheel, focus on the specific obstacle at hand. Ask, “How can we work together to find a safe solution?


Making a decision about driving for your parents

Driving is often viewed as a symbol of independence. While some older adults voluntarily stop driving others may be more resistant, feeling as though they are losing autonomy. If you still find yourself having trouble taking the keys away, remind your parent that perhaps it’s better to be alive and able to enjoy life than to be driving and risk hurting themselves or someone else.

If your loved one is living with dementia and refuses to stop driving, the following tips for disabling their vehicle may help you keep them and others safe:

  • Remove the car battery
  • Remove the spark plugs or spark plug wires
  • Hide the keys

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.

This article originally appeared on APlaceForMom and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

More from MediaFeed:

Like MediaFeed’s content? Be sure to follow us.