You know the day will come. Your parents know the day will come. But, even with wisdom, logic and experience on your side, the day you have to formally insist that you parents never drive again, is a sad and emotional milestone.

AARP, the national senior citizens organization, reports that in year 2000, 10 percent of American drivers were 70 years old or more. By 2040, that figure will increase to 20 percent. If you have driven with your senior parents recently, this may well be an intimidating prospect.

The problem is that it is just as intimidating for your parents to give up their independence and for many that is what their ability to drive represents. AARP lists the following 10 signs that senior driving skills are eroding and may be putting your parents at risk of a serious tragedy.

10 Warning Signs

  1. An inordinate number of “close calls” or near crashes.
  2. Mysterious dents or scrapes on the car and damage to fences or mailboxes and garage doors and frequent brushes with curbs.
  3. Not confident in judging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance ramps.
  4. Other drivers beeping horn expressing surprise at movements.
  5. Confusion and getting lost driving to locations they should know.
  6. Difficulty reading road signs.
  7. Inability to see the sides of the road while looking straight ahead.
  8. Slower response time and/or difficulty moving foot from gas to brake pedal.
  9. Difficulty concentrating on the task at hand.
  10. Difficulty turning head to check over shoulder while backing up or changing lanes.
  11. Increased numbers of new traffic tickets or warnings by law enforcement officers over the last year.

Facing the Problem

Even after you have diagnosed the existing risks, you must tread carefully. You should be prepared that your parents are likely to blame other drivers. You probably will not make much headway if your tone is confrontational. AARP suggests you should expect to meet resistance and develop a sensible strategy.

To validate your parents driving inefficiencies or strengths, let them drive you once a month to see exactly how they are doing. How are their reactions? Awareness? Vision? Are they driving at safe speeds; not too slow, not too fast? Can they handle the open road? Are they able to drive at night?

In other words, find a way to have them take your self-imposed road test every month. Then, discuss the results. Remind them that there are other persons at risk when they get in the car.

Course of Action

AAA, the country’s largest auto club acknowledges the sensitivity but also the very real problem some senior drivers represent. AAA suggests handling the problem delicately but with conviction.

  1. Recognize the problem and start non-confrontational conversations with your parents a couple years before their driving skills start to deteriorate.
  2. Do  a monthly driving test.
  3. Research and explain transportation options for seniors, including public transport.
  4. Acknowledge that older drivers can often make modifications and continue to drive.
  5. Adult children have ways to determine their parents driving abilities. Engage the family doctor in the conversation or suggest a comprehensive driving evaluation by an occupational therapist. Evaluations cost $200-$500 but are sometimes covered by insurance. In this evaluation, age is not the central criteria but driving skills are the deciding factor. This is highly recommended.

There is no doubt that this is a difficult conversation to have with people you love. But, if you love them, you want the safe. Get involved and be proactive before an accident occurs.

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