There are few things Canadians cling to more tightly than their automobiles. In our suburbanized society, the automobile is both the symbol of our individuality and freedom, as well as our connection to the outside world. Without a car, we fear isolation and dependence. But as people age, driving can become increasingly dangerous. After teenagers, the group most likely to receive a traffic summons for running a red light is seniors. And when seniors are involved in a car accident, they are more likely to be seriously hurt.
Watch for the Warning Signs
There are many factors that can make it more difficult for even the most alert senior to drive safely. Depth perception and night vision decline with age, while reaction times increase. Some medications may cause drowsiness—and it can take seniors just a little longer to orient them when faced with a new traffic pattern, and in heavy traffic, this can be hazardous.
For a family caregiver, the most obvious warning sign that it may be time for their loved one to give up their keys is those small dents and scrapes that indicate that their loved one might not be totally in control of their vehicle. Other signs include:
- Driving on the wrong side of the road or on the shoulder
- Changing lanes, braking or accelerating abruptly
- Drifting into other lanes
- Missing highway exits and turns
- Unintentionally antagonizing other motorists or showing anger or aggressive behaviour towards other drivers.
- Increases in traffic tickets or warnings
Taken individually, each of these signs may not be significant, but when they begin to add up, it’s time for you to take action.
Staying Safe Behind the Wheel
If you feel your loved one is driving unsafely, you have many options open to you besides insisting that they give up their keys.
- Make a good-faith effort to help your loved one stay on the road. Ask them to take a refresher driving course such as 55 Alive or DriveWise.
- Seek out an objective assessment of their driving abilities. A third-party opinion can provide a baseline for decision making and help make the follow-up discussions about driving less a contest of wills.
- Agree to a set of driving restrictions. For instance, you may both decide that your loved one drive only on local roads during the middle of the day, carry a cell phone with them for emergencies, and have their vehicle serviced regularly.
Retiring From the Road
If it’s clear that your loved one’s performance on the road poses a risk to themselves and others, it’s time for you to take more decisive action. There’s no getting around it, though: convincing a senior to stop driving can be difficult. You can increase the likelihood that your loved one will give up their keys on their own accord by coming to the conversation ready to help them envision a full life without a car:
- Know the local transportation alternatives. Be able to demonstrate that with a little planning they will be able to use public transportation to pursue their customary round of activities.
- Investigate local home-delivery services. Make a catalog of the local services that can deliver to your loved one’s home, including dry cleaning, take-out food and groceries.
- Emphasize monetary savings. Insurance, gasoline, maintenance and repair, registration and licensing can add up to several thousand dollars a year, an expense that is hard to justify if your loved one only runs errands in their car a few times a week.
- Keep an open mind and be flexible. For instance, some seniors may feel less of a sense of loss if they can hang on to their own car and have others use it to provide transportation. If your loved one can retain their dignity, they’re more likely to give up their keys. For information on surrendering a driver’s license and alternative ID card: http://www.icbc.com/driver-licensing/re-exam/giving-up
For more information and resources for seniors and driving go to: Older Drivers in Canada: www.olderdriversafety.ca; BCAA: www.bcaaroadsafety.com/drivers/older-drivers; DriveWise BC: www.drivewisebc.com.
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