Older adults should be able to continue driving as long as they can safely do so.
For most adults, driving is a symbol of independence. Driving allows us to run necessary errands, and it connects us to family, friends, and social activities. Unfortunately, as people grow older, they are more likely to be involved in traffic accidents. Driving may be unsafe if an older person has medical problems that interfere with vision, consciousness, reaction time, and/or judgment. Sometimes, it is clear that driving is unsafe. A person should not drive under the following conditions:
- A physician has recommended that the person no longer drive
- Eyesight cannot be corrected to a legal driving level.
- The person has lost her license due to accidents, citations, or driving while intoxicated.
- The person has a pattern of getting lost and not being able to reach her destination.
Usually, it is less clear that driving is a potential hazard. Maybe the older person has had “near misses” but hasn’t caused any accidents—yet. You may need to monitor their driving, encourage them to limit driving, or take steps to prevent them from driving, based on the seriousness of the issues.
Progressive steps to reducing driving
If you have concerns about an older person’s driving, talk to them. See if they will limit their driving in the following ways:
- Drive shorter distances.
- Drive on familiar roads only.
- Avoid difficult, unprotected left-hand turns.
- Avoid driving at night, in heavy traffic, on heavily traveled roads or during bad weather.
Reducing the need to drive
Families can help older adults by finding ways to reduce their need to drive. At the same time, they should address the important social needs of their older relative that were met through driving. Following are specific ways to reduce the need to drive:
- Arrange to have prescription medicines, groceries and meals delivered, reducing the need to go shopping.
- Have hairdressers make home visits.
- Schedule people to visit regularly, either as volunteers or for pay.
- Arrange for friends, neighbors or church members to take the person on errands or to social or religious events.
Alternatives to driving
There are a number of alternatives to driving available to older adults. These include:
- Call MY RIDE Dallas for free personalized help in finding transportation options in Dallas County, (972) 855-8084. MY RIDE Dallas is a program of the Dallas Area Agency on Aging
- Asking friends and relatives to drive the person to appointments, shopping, and other activities. It is helpful to offer to buy gasoline periodically to help with the expenses.
- Letting others do more of the driving over time until the person no longer drives at all.
- Using public transportation. Public transportation may offer fixed-route services through buses, and/or demand-response service through specially equipped vans. Please keep in mind that public transportation may be too complicated for those with advanced dementia.
- Using taxis. Some taxi companies will set up accounts for family caregivers so a person with dementia has easy access to transportation without worrying about payment. Public transportation options vary widely from county to county and not all counties offer readily available public transportation.
- Using Ride-share companies like Uber or Lyft.
Take the keys as a last resort
If you have serious concerns about an older person’s driving, you can contact the statewide Customer Service Department of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) at (512) 424-2600, or your local DPS office.
In most cases, the local DPS office will send the older person a letter and ask that she come in for a personal interview. However, if DPS is made aware of an actual or suspected medical condition that impairs a person’s ability to drive safely, it can require the license holder to undergo a driving test and examination.
Taking away the car keys or a driver’s license, or selling or disabling the car should be a last resort. To the older person, such actions may create a fear of losing independence and resentment. Keep in mind that, even if family members take away a driver’s license or prohibit access to a car, the older person may drive without a license, pay someone to fix a disabled car, or buy a new car. Once a person has stopped driving, caregivers must decide whether taking away the keys, license and car will help the person adjust or make it more difficult. Some caregivers remove the keys or the car from sight to avoid having the driving issue resurface, and/or substitute a state identification card for a driver’s license. Others allow their loved ones to keep their keys, car and license in order to maintain a sense of dignity.
Sources: Area Agencies on Aging and other sources.
We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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