We often speak with families who are concerned about the driving ability of their elderly loved ones. Giving up driving it very difficult because it can signal a great loss of independence. However, a senior need not lose all independence, just because he gives up driving. The costs associated with car maintenance can be exchanged on the senior’s budget for alternative rides such as a driver from a home health agency or for taxis. But families often wonder when is the best time to intervene.
Warning signs of unsafe driving from Helpguide.org
If you begin to see that the senior is having more difficulties than before, be on the alert for changes that make driving unsafe. If you notice any of the warning signs listed below, it is time to reassess the risk of the senior’s driving.
• Problems on the road: Abrupt lane changes, braking, or acceleration. Failing to use the turn signal, or keeping the signal on without changing lanes. Drifting into other lanes. Driving on the wrong side of the road or on the shoulder.
• Trouble with reflexes: Trouble reading signs or navigating directions to get somewhere. Range-of-motion issues (looking over the shoulder, moving the hands or feet). Trouble moving from the gas to the brake pedal, or confusing the two pedals. Slow reaction to changes in the driving environment.
• Increased anxiety and anger in the car: Feeling more nervous or fearful while driving or feeling exhausted after driving. Frustration or anger at other drivers but oblivious to the frustration of other drivers – not understanding why they are honking. Reluctance from friends or relatives to be in the car when the senior is driving.
• Trouble with memory or handling change: Getting lost more often. Missing highway exits or backing up after missing an exit. Trouble paying attention to signals, road signs, pavement markings, or pedestrians.
• Close calls and increased citations: More frequent “close calls” (i.e., almost crashing), or dents and scrapes on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs. Increased traffic tickets or “warnings” by traffic or law enforcement officers.
When these warning signs are present, the family should encourage the senior to have a driving evaluation. Driving evaluations are available on a private and confidential basis that allows the senior to still feel in control. Ideally if a senior does not pass the driving evaluation he or she will voluntarily give up driving. Families should be sensitive when speaking with a senior about giving up driving. Remember that the ability to drive is a symbol of freedom and self-sufficiency that few seniors want to relinquish.
If the family finds that the senior refuses to submit to a driving evaluation or refuses to give up driving if he is found to be an unsafe driver after being evaluated, the family may take further action. Section 322.126 (2), (3), Florida Statutes, provides that “Any physician, person, or agency having knowledge of any licensed driver’s or applicant’s mental or physical disability to drive…is authorized to report such knowledge to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles… The reports authorized by this section shall be confidential… No civil or criminal action may be brought against any physician, person or agency who provides the information herein.” Therefore the family can confidentially notify the state who can then require the senior to take a driving test that can result in the loss of the driver’s license. The report form is found at http://www.flhsmv.gov/forms/72190.pdf.