The struggle over age-related driving issues is all too common. For example, more than 80 percent of older adults never speak to a family member or physician about their ability to drive safely, according to a AAA study. Following these basic steps might help pave the way for any needed changes in an older adult’s driving routine.
1. Have an ongoing conversation, not “The Talk.”
Mobility planning should be as much a part of retirement planning as health care, housing, and finances—and the conversation should start early. “As we age, we all develop some health issues that interfere with driving,” says Dr. Linda Hill, director of the Center for Human and Urban Mobility at University of California, San Diego. “Families and older drivers should begin talking about driving retirement well before it’s needed, when egos and emotions are less of an issue.”
Anita Lorz Villagrana, a AAA community affairs and traffic-safety manager, adds, “Avoid an intervention. Instead, talk openly and respectfully. Ride along with your aging family members so you can see if their driving skills are changing. Driving isn’t an age-based function, but rather a skills-based function. Also, make sure you know what medications your older family member is taking, and how it might affect their driving.”
2. Sharpen skills and seek solutions.
Many AAA programs and courses are available for older drivers. For example, CarFit is a no-cost AAA program that provides a quick, comprehensive assessment of how well older drivers and their vehicle “fit” together. Technicians guide participants through a checklist to correctly adjust such things as mirror position and the distance between chest and steering wheel. A second program, Adult Skills Audit, is a fee-based, behind-the-wheel assessment by a licensed instructor for adults who want to review and refresh their driving skills. It’s available only in California and Northern New England. Both programs might be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; for more information, go to aaa.com/defensivedriving.
Another option: Consulting with an occupational therapist or a driving-rehabilitation specialist. “These professionals are highly trained to enhance safety and comfort behind the wheel, so that older adults can remain independent as long as is safely possible,” says Elin Schold Davis, project manager of the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Older Driver Initiative.
3. Recruit support.
Many older drivers just don’t want to hear about problems with their driving from their kids. Friends and other relatives, especially their peers, often carry more clout. Doctors, too, can play an especially important role. “Physicians are crucial participants in supporting older drivers and their families,” UCSD’s Hill says.
4. Plan for transportation options.
Seniors need to know that giving up the keys won’t leave them stranded. This means not only getting family members to pitch in as drivers, but also helping senior drivers explore public transportation options, ride-sharing resources, and other community services.
5. Take your time selling the car.
Older drivers often take comfort just knowing their car is there, even if they never drive it. Most experts agree that, except for ex-drivers with Alzheimer’s or dementia, keeping the car often helps seniors make the transition.