A lot of articles on seniors and driving seem intent on highlighting that seniors are impaired, making them a hazard on the roads. While some children are faced with having a tough conversation with their elderly parents about when it is time to retire their keys, the biggest concern when it comes to seniors and driving affects them whether they are the driver or the passenger.
Statistically speaking seniors and teenagers are more likely than any other age groups to be involved in a car crash. Yet interestingly enough, people over the age of 65 are most likely to actually die due to a crash.[i] Because seniors tend to be more prone to infections, broken bones, and difficult recovery periods, they suffer more fatalities due to car crashes.
As either a senior or a caregiver, perhaps the number one thing you can do to improve your safety on the road is to be honest about how aging affects driving. Here are some facts to help you understand why seniors receive more traffic citations and are involved in more car accidents than any other age group:
- Muscle and joint pain can make it difficult to turn your head as you change lanes or check for traffic.
- Slower reaction times can make it harder to brake in time or avoid obstacles that suddenly appear.
- Hearing loss and diminishing eyesight can decrease your awareness of other drivers and obstacles.
- Medications can cause drowsiness and further impair your reflexes as you drive.
If you think that your parent needs to turn in their keys, but are afraid to broach the subject, you aren’t alone. According to a survey conducted by USA Today, “adults ages 40-65 are more concerned about aging parents’ driving than they are about family members driving while intoxicated.”[ii] Despite their concern, children are shying away from having a serious conversation about their parent’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.
The key is not to put this important conversation off till it is too late. Here are some tips that will help you establish a game plan and help you have a productive conversation with your parents:
- Make sure that your approach is full of compassion and respect. Imagine how hard it must be for them to forfeit a piece of their independence.
- Timing is everything. Don’t wait for a crisis situation to blow up and bombard them with your concerns and present them with an ultimatum. Schedule a time to talk and put some preparation into what you are going to say.
- Be willing to negotiate. While your parents might not be willing give up driving, you might be able to come to some agreements about when and where they will drive in order to prevent accidents. Avoiding rush hour, driving during daylight hours, and limiting trips to short distances can be a step in the right direction.
- Provide an alternative mode of transportation. It is unrealistic to think that you can simply take away driving privileges without helping to provide alternative transportation that will help them get out of the house and complete daily tasks. Whether you set up a car pool, hire a driving service, or offer to give them rides yourself, you need to make sure that they are still able to get around with relative ease.
Considering the fact seniors are not only more likely to be involved in car accidents, but also at greater risk to suffer debilitating or deadly injuries, it becomes even more vital for children to protect their parents and stop avoiding uncomfortable conversations.