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Time to Give Up the Keys? A Guide to Seniors and Driving

Frustrated Senior DriverAccording to Michigan.gov, Michigan has over 1.2 million drivers that are age 65 and older. By 2025, it is expected that one in five drivers will be 65 and older. This is a trend that is sweeping across the country with more older drivers on the road than ever before. A person's ability to drive can mean everything to them; it serves not just as a means of getting from Point A to Point B, but it also represents their independence and personal freedom.

However data shows that driving gets riskier with age and while old age alone is not a reason to stop driving, a number of physical and mental conditions, such as dementia and vision/hearing impairment, can lead to an unsafe driver getting behind the wheel and possibly hurting themselves or others. So at one point does it become obvious that a senior driver must be told to give up the keys?

Warning Signs of an Unsafe Senior Driver

It may not be obvious when a senior begins to have trouble behind the wheel. An aging parent or loved one may not notice their diminishing driving skills, either, or if they do, they may be too ashamed to acknowledge it for fear of admitting their limits. While you certainly want them to maintain their independence, you also don't want to wait for an accident to happen before deciding to intervene.

Below are some of the potential warning signs of a dangerous driver that you can keep an eye out for without coming across as accusatory:

  • Damage to Their Car
    • When you visit with your aging friend or family member, when they are not with you, walk around their car and look for signs of damage. While everyone has minor wear and tear on their vehicles like chips in the windshield or door dings from a parking lot, look for serious signs of driving mishaps like deep dents or scratches. If you find some that are concerning, ask them how they happened.
  • They Show a Reluctance to Drive
    • Take note if your aging friend or family member seems reluctant to drive, complains about getting lost or just seems agitated or exhausted with the notion of having to drive. Declining an invitation to a social event that they have to drive to may be their way of acknowledging their diminishing driving skills set and avoiding accidents. This may be the opportune time to ask how they feel about driving.
  • Changes in Driving Behavior
    •  Accompany them on a few drives and observe their behavior. Do they seem tense? Do they lean forward, look worried or grip the wheel tightly? Do they seem tired after driving? These may be signs that they are beginning to have anxiety about driving.

 How to Have "The Talk" About Giving up the Keys

If you have concerns about an aging family member or friend's driving, talk to them about it as soon as you can. While it is tempting to wait until the "right time" to address the issue with them, consider the potential consequences of waiting until it is too late. Remember that as difficult as it is for you to broach the subject of suggesting they find a different solution to driving, it is just as frustrating to them to admit that their ability to perform basic tasks such as driving a car are dwindling. For more on how to have difficult conversations with those in your inner circle that are aging, please see our previous post How to Have “The Talk” with Your Aging Parents.

If you would like to learn more about seniors and driving, visit this guide from caring.com. In addition to providing tips about discussing your concerns with an aging driver, this guide also provides information on:

  • Seeking professional assessments of driving safely
  • How the DMV can help ensure an older adult drives safely
    • This section includes an interactive map of the US as specific rules for senior drivers and license renewal requirements differ depending on the state you live in
  • Ways to help a senior transition from driving
  • Transportation and ride-sharing options for seniors who no longer drive

If you have concerns about a loved one's diminishing ability to drive, don't wait to have a discussion.

The potential liability for waiting too long to address the issue can mean severe financial and/or criminal consequences including traffic tickets, raised insurance rates over traffic infractions, significant damage to vehicles or public property. Or far worse, the injury or death of a pedestrian or your loved one. For more resources and information on assessing a person's ability to drive safely, visit these tools at aarp.org.

Interested in Learning more about Issues Affecting Seniors?

Recently, elder law attorney Matthew Fedor sat down with Mark Imperial with Business Innovators Magazine to discuss common myths and misconceptions about elder law and estate planning.

One of the most common misconceptions is that "It can wait, I don't need to do that kind of planning just yet". Fedor explains that the earlier you can get these plans in place, the easier it will be to avoid crisis in the long run. Another common myth is that while having "just a will" in place is good, it is not the "end-all-be-all" solution and really only works if the person is deceased.

Fedor also discusses:

  • The benefits of guardianships
  • How people can start to implement these plans into action
  • Difference between elder law and estate planning attorneys.

See the full interview here at businessinnovatorsmagazine.com.

Categories: Did you Know?, Elder Law

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