As you get older, you get smarter. So it makes sense for seniors to be smart enough to know when to stop driving.
Fortunately, many aging drivers know for themselves when to say. The trick is to conduct a rigorous self-assessment, removing emotions so that you can accurately assess whether it is safe to continue driving.
Ignore the stubborn stereotype of a 90-year-old who refuses to cough up car keys and find a more nuanced reality. It hurts to admit that driving is no longer sensible. But the decision becomes easier when that choice puts yourself and others at risk.
“If they are not cognitively impaired, many older adults will have the opportunity to know when to stop themselves,” said David Carr, Mo., professor of medicine and neurology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Washington.
Common indicators include driving in familiar areas and fighting to keep up with the speed of the road, he says. Other red flags: more frequent bends (or worse) of fenders, excessive braiding on the tracks and physical ailments that impair vision or mobility while driving.
Carri is concerned about a change in someone’s basic behavior or leadership skills. Some people have lifelong inattentive or daring drivers. But others become careful and attentive, becoming confused and timid while sitting at the wheel.
Another worrying sign involves mental focus. A driver who has previously talked freely with passengers may be silent while driving.
“A family member sometimes says, ‘I used to talk to my father when he drove, but now he can’t be disturbed because he has to focus on the road,'” Carr said.
If this seems familiar, evaluate how safe your driving is. Try these free web resources:
1. American Geriatrics Society Health in Aging Foundation’s Driver safety questionnaire helps older adults assess their leadership skills.
2. AAA Drivers 65 Plus offers a self-assessment tool.
After completing the evaluation, you will check the results. If you decide, you can share the results with your doctor and discuss the next steps. Such self-diagnostic tools can be a springboard to plan when and how to change your ride to avoid serious accidents.
“It’s really hard to generalize the risks when it comes to driving,” said Ph.D. William Van Tassel. “There’s a lot of variability. Turning to structured assessment can help.”
For the elderly, vision problems tend to increase the risk. Carr notes that with age, cataracts and glaucoma can cause problems with the eye’s response to glare. Older people who feel confident driving during the day can avoid driving at night.
“At night, the ability to detect traffic signs can be more difficult,” Carr said. “Street lights can have halos.”
Medicines also play a role. Many types of medication reduce driver attention or cause other problems, including opioids, antipsychotics, and muscle relaxants. Alcohol consumption further disturbs mental acuity.
“In many cases, you use your brain to assess if you have a defect,” Van Tassel said. “But with alcohol, the brain is the first thing affected,” so it’s harder to make decisions after drinking.
In addition to keeping away from alcohol, you get the advantage of including a passenger as a passenger. If you are unsure of your ride, invite a friend to ride. Only their presence can be a valuable goal.
“It helps to get another pair of eyes,” Van Tassel said.