You may sense that your parent is having difficulty driving but you are not sure. Every time you start to bring it up you are immediately shut down. They are fine, you are overexaggerating and making something out of nothing. How do you know if your parents should be driving without driving with them?
There are signs they are having difficulty:
- Large scrapes, scratches and dents on the car.
- Paint or dents on the sides of the garage door.
- Increasing stories of close calls or crazy drivers.
- Asking friends to drive for them more often.
- Having friends tell you they are scared to drive with your parent (a big red flag)
What you can do if you see driving difficulties?
What can you do if you see these signs? Talk with your parent in a non-accusatory tone when things are quiet and you are alone with them. Emphasize that you are not trying to take away their independence but rather save them from harm or even worse saving them from harming someone else, causing another family pain and going to jail. Be patient and understanding and let them know how scary it is for you that they are driving.
Don’t just take away their license and car after your discussion but come up with alternative transportation and delivery ideas. It is not enough to just have a grocery delivery service, people need to get out into the world to prevent loneliness, depression and dementia. You may want to take away their driving in stages, such as asking them to restrict driving to a five mile radius and only during the day or taking them out once a week for shopping. Then evaluate every three to six months. You can use public transportation or hire a driving service like The Extra Daughter to drive for them.
What if your parent refuses to stop driving as they have been? That is not the end of the discussion. There are companies that will evaluate driving skills of older adults. This is a third party evaluation that you both need to agree to heed the recommendations.
If they do not consent to a driving test, as a last resort you can contact their physician and leave a message about why you feel your relative should not be driving. Be very specific (unknown paint on the car and your parent was unaware of that) in your message. Doctors have the authority to revoke driver’s licenses. It is a dramatic, life changing decision but one, while it should not be taken lightly, could save lives. An even more radical decision is to move to an independent living facility that provides transportation. There are now very nice independent living communities that are a far cry from when your grandparents were old.
Balancing independence with safety.
Don’t underestimate the effects of taking away a car. Spend a few days looking at your car usage. You will be amazed how many times you jump in your car to pick up a few items at the store or go out with someone on a whim. All that said you should not let your parent use a car to give them freedom despite the danger. Rather you need to come up with alternatives that balance their independence with safety in advance of discussing driving with your parent.
Automobiles can be a three ton weapon but they give us autonomy and freedom. It is a precarious balance. But there are alternatives for older adults that allow for freedom and keep them and others on the road safe.