Help Seniors Drive Safely or Stop Driving

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If you fall into the generation known as the baby boomers, there’s a good chance that you also fall into the sandwich generation. Why? Because we are sandwiched between the responsibilities for our growing kids and the growing needs of our elderly parents. While we usually accept both responsibilities, it can be stressful to step in and play the “parent” to our own aging parents.

As tough as it is to teach our teens to drive, it’s much tougher to police our parents’ driving. One important—and difficult—issue we may have to face is evaluating the safety of older drivers in the family.

It can be very hard to summon the courage to tell the people who drove with us the first time—and possibly paid for our first accident—that their own driving habits make us nervous. But sometimes, for the safety of our parents and other drivers and even to comply with auto insurance company and state regulations, we have to force the issue.

You may take some comfort in knowing that you are not the first adult child to have to tackle this problem—and that help already exists.

Warning Signs

Many elderly people can still display maturity, experience and strong driving skills, but some infirmities of age can make other older drivers a true road hazard.

If you have concerns about one of your parents’ driving, you are right to address the issue. One ticket or accident isn’t a sign of a problem, but a change in the frequency of tickets, accidents or even small incidents should alarm you.

How to Talk to Elderly People About Driving

The most difficult part of this discussion will not necessarily be about handing over the car keys. The argument will most likely focus on your aging family member’s fear of giving up their freedom, responsibility and even identity.

In our culture, one major rite of passage is earning a driver’s license. Aging adults may feel as if they are being treated like a child when they give up the car keys.

  • Try to approach the subject in a calm and caring way. Appeal to your aging parents’ lifelong sense of responsibility. Your concern is for personal safety and not about a few dents in a car. Turning in the car keys will be a mature and adult decision—not a punishment.
  • Present alternative transportation ideas. If an elderly person knows you will be willing to provide transportation, pay for cabs or help them locate city or senior center buses, it may reassure them that they will not lose their freedom and mobility.
  • Get help from health care professionals. Sometimes, it’s a lot easier for an aging parent to take advice from a doctor than it is to take advice from the son or daughter they taught to drive a few decades ago.
  • Find senior driving classes in your area. Some places actually require these now for drivers over a certain age. Sometimes, your older loved ones simply need a refresher class.
  • The professionals who run senior driving classes can also help evaluate and counsel the family about individual driver safety. If your parent is still a capable driver, a senior class can be a useful refresher, just like defensive driving classes. Some auto insurance companies even offer a discount for a successful class completion.
  • Hopefully, you can save this as a last alternative, but if you truly fear for your elderly family member’s safety and the safety of other drivers, you may have to request a safety evaluation from the police.
  • If your aging parent does have to turn in their driver’s license, assure them that they can replace it with a state identification card. Handing in a driver’s license can feel like a loss of identity, but replacing it with a state ID card can help.

You will have to accept the fact that you may be regarded as the bad guy for a while, but it will eventually pass. In the meantime, you can take comfort knowing that your actions may have saved your elderly loved ones’ and other drivers’ lives.

Guest blogger Marilyn Katz is the founder of www.over50web.net , an online community for boomers.

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Marilyn Katz

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