Due to visual impairments, cognitive health issues and illness, seniors are at an increased risk for getting into car crashes. Yet, family members often shy away from discussing ways to keep their loved ones off the road to avoid confrontation or offending them. It’s certainly not a new phenomenon.
In 2012, more than 5,550 people age 65 and older were killed in motor vehicle crashes, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Another 214,000 seniors were injured during the same period. But having the “talk” about limiting a loved one’s ability to drive is necessary to keep them safe. Here are some tips to make that talk a positive experience.
Address Pushback Head On
It can be difficult for anyone to give up their sense of independence and autonomy, and, likewise, seniors often feel helpless or isolated at the thought of losing the ability to drive. They may push back to your concerns with anger or resentment, while insisting their driving abilities and overall faculties are in good shape. Still, a negative reaction shouldn’t be a reason to stop discussing the topic of staying safe on the road.
Instead, sit down with your older family member and ask how they have been feeling about driving and whether it would bother them to give it up. Listen to their concerns and feelings before making any suggestions. Empathize with them by letting them know you hear their fears and anxieties, and are there to help. Ask them to keep an open mind and assure them you would like to help find other means of transportation when they’re ready to make that transition.
Assess How They Should Get Around Town
After navigating a few successful conversations with your senior parent or relative, offer some helpful advice about possible next steps. Discuss with them getting a physical and eye exam to ensure there aren’t any problems with their cognition or vision. Next, determine what driving laws apply to their age. New Jersey, for example, requires drivers of all ages to renew their license every four years. Meantime, a vision test may be occasionally required at the discretion of Motor Vehicle Commission personnel. But rather than hope they can pass a driving test — written or behind the wheel — help them become more knowledgeable about various rules of the road by visiting driving-tests.org.
Brainstorm Alternative Transportation
Your senior family member may need assurance they can still get out of the house and enjoy life without a car. Volunteer to drive at night or over long distances when their vision may be impaired. If busy schedules don’t align, arrange to have a senior shuttle service take them to and from various destinations, or have them download Uber and show them how to arrange for pickup and dropoff. Try to frame these assistance services as a way to gain more mobility and freedom, rather than losing it.
Remember, driving isn’t just about getting from Point A to Point B. Your senior family member may be worried about their ability to get medication on time, buy weekly groceries and visit friends. Set up a grocery delivery service, or see if programs like Instacart or Fresh Direct are available in their area. Amazon Prime subscriptions can also be arranged to deliver goods like snacks, pasta, paper towels and other household items. Joining a senior center or Meetup can also help widen their social circle, where driving isn’t a requirement.
Focus on the Positives
It’s easy to get caught up in what you’re losing — rather than what you’re gaining — when giving up driving. Talk with older family members about the joys of not owning a car, like not dealing with maintenance and upkeep. Likewise, remind them how stressful driving in traffic and getting to appointments on time can be in today’s world.
Instead, focus on how their health can improve by skipping driving and opting instead to walk or bike somewhere, as well as how they can spend more time with family members who offer to drive. Regardless of how you approach their transition to not driving, make the focus about supporting their journey to a new, exciting chapter in life.