We may recognize Older Driver Awareness Week in the month of December, but in reality, the safety of senior drivers is an important topic year round. That is because older drivers are more vulnerable to severe injury or even death when involved in a motor vehicle accident. 

Based on data from the Federal Highway Administration, there were 3.8 million drivers ages 65 and older in the state of Florida in 2022. Furthermore, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), people 65 and older made up 17% of all traffic fatalities in 2021. Many tragic fatalities like these could be prevented by helping our senior loved ones improve or evaluate the safety of their driving.

Driving is one way for older adults to stay independent, and just because someone is a senior does not necessarily mean they should give up driving. But, we must help our senior loved ones recognize when it is still safe for them to be driving, and when it is not.

How does aging affect driving?

son having coffee with aging father

Numerous factors can affect our driving ability as we age. Difficulties with eyesight, hearing, mobility, and sleep can lead to unsafe driving. Symptoms of certain medical conditions can also impede driving safety, such as tremors from Parkinson’s disease and memory loss from conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

In addition, some medications can interfere with seniors’ ability to drive by causing drowsiness or decreasing alertness, reflexes, and judgment.  

When should a senior stop driving?

frustrated senior in sunglasses driving

Are you worried about your senior loved one’s ability to drive? Some signs that a senior should stop driving include:

  • Numerous accidents or near-accidents, including fender benders, scrapes, and dents
  • Several recent traffic tickets or violations
  • Direct observations from family, friends, or neighbors about erratic or unsafe driving
  • Difficulty seeing road signs, exits, lights, other cars, or pedestrians
  • Inability to turn head or neck to check mirrors and lanes
  • Getting lost or unsure about directions often
  • Frequently speeding or driving too slowly 
  • Anxiety about driving
  • Unsafe feelings from passengers
  • Suggestions from a medical professional to reduce or refrain from driving

Any one of these signs is enough to consider whether or not a senior should be driving. Therefore, if multiple of these signs are present, it is definitely wise to evaluate the situation promptly.

How to talk with seniors about unsafe driving

son talking to senior mom

Having conversations with seniors about the safety of their driving can be difficult, as is discussing many topics related to aging. It can be hard for some seniors to recognize or accept that putting away the keys would be the safest option for them and the community. This is understandable because, to a senior, this can feel like a loss of freedom and independence. 

However, driving ability is one of the most important conversations to have with seniors as it impacts not just them but also other drivers on the road.  

When preparing to have difficult conversations with your senior relatives about driving, be sure to follow these guidelines:

Plan ahead.

As with many age-related recommendations, it is wise to have conversations about driving before it becomes a major concern. That way, you can ease into the conversation in stages rather than bringing it up unexpectedly.

Choose who will initiate the conversation. 

Selecting the person to start the conversation is imperative. Think about who the senior is most receptive to, whether it be you, another family member, a close friend, a medical professional, or a religious leader, for example.

Avoid confrontations or interventions. 

You do not want these conversations to feel like attacks, as that can cause the senior to feel defensive, upset, or angry. Keep a neutral tone and use a calm voice to show you have positive intentions. 

Have some reasons prepared.

It is wise to have tangible explanations for why their driving abilities may be decreasing. Whether it is because of a medical condition, physical changes, medication, or the basic effects of aging, some seniors respond better when there are explanations for the decision. This also makes the senior less likely to feel at fault for the problem. 

Be supportive and understanding.

Make sure your loved one knows that your main goal is their safety and well-being. Acknowledge that this change may be frustrating or feel like a loss of independence. Reassure them that you also want them to be as independent as possible while also being safe. 

Offer alternative transportation solutions. 

One of the most common questions a senior may ask during these conversations is how they are going to get around if they cannot drive. Make sure you have solutions to this problem, as it is important that the senior can still get to doctors’ appointments, be involved in social opportunities, and attend to other obligations. Plus, how will they run errands, shop for groceries, or get household supplies? You do not want their physical or emotional well-being to suffer as a result of not being able to drive. Have solutions to these questions prepared in advance.

Will you, another family member, or friend be able to bring them to the store or to their appointments? Will they need to use paratransit or a senior transportation service? Can they utilize rideshare services and grocery or food delivery apps? Or do they live in an independent or assisted living community that offers transportation? All of these solutions are worth considering before you initiate the driving conversation. 

Driving safety tips for seniors

driving safety tips

Sometimes, it is easier for a senior to start limiting their driving gradually rather than stop cold turkey. For seniors who do drive, it is imperative to follow some guidelines to keep everyone out of harm’s way. Here are some safety tips for seniors to keep the roads a safer place:

    • Drive during the best conditions – Seniors should aim to go out on the road during the best conditions possible. That means during daylight hours, not when it is dark or when the sun is setting or rising. It also means when the weather is optimal – not during rain, snow, ice, or strong wind. In sunny places like Florida, seniors should be sure to keep sunglasses in the car at all times. 
    • Always wear a seatbelt – This is important for drivers and passengers of any age, but especially crucial for seniors to remember. 
    • Remove distractions – Make sure the senior is not distracted by the radio, phone, GPS, or any passengers. 
    • Don’t crowd – Leave extra distance between you and the car in front of you, and start braking early to avoid sudden stops.
    • Check your car – Make sure your car is inspected frequently for working lights, brakes, oil, signals, and more. It is also wise to invest in a car with plenty of safety features, such as a backup camera, power steering and brakes, large mirrors, and side assist for changing lanes.
    • Stay physically active – The better physical shape you are in, the more agile you will be while driving. Participate in mobility, flexibility, and strength exercises regularly.
    • Consider the time of day – Avoid going out during times of heavy traffic or rush hour. This will make the drive less stressful and demanding.
    • No drinking and driving – While it may seem obvious, it is imperative for seniors to avoid driving after drinking alcohol – especially because seniors are often prone to dehydration.
    • Talk to your doctor – A doctor will be able to advise a senior on whether they should be driving or not based on their medical history, medications, physical abilities, health conditions, and other factors.

Next steps

old man smiling in blue car

Having serious conversations about hanging up the keys is never easy. But, it is necessary – especially when a senior’s safety is on the line. By having these tough conversations with your senior loved ones, you are helping to ensure their ongoing safety and well-being as they age.

Need more senior guidance?

When it comes to your aging parents or relatives, it can be hard to know the best steps to take. Why not consult a professional to advise you on these important decisions?

The expert senior advisors at Florida Senior Consulting are here to help you make a personalized plan of action for your loved one’s senior care. Whether it be aging in place in their own home or moving to a senior living community, we will help make it happen on their terms.To learn more about our free guidance, call (800) 969-7176 or visit FloridaSeniorConsulting.com.

Contact Florida Senior Consulting

(800) 969-7176