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Curtailing unsafe driving habits


Age is not the only factor for unsafe driving; in fact, many drivers remain safe and free from traffic accidents all their lives. Older drivers can, though, experience some decline in driving abilities as they age. Many drivers fear the loss of independence that comes with driving. This article demonstrates how to work with an older driver to curtail unsafe habits that have developed.

Collect information

No one wants to be an unsafe driver. The older driver may even be aware that their driving has become a problem, and might be hoping you can offer an alternative. The first step to curtailing unsafe driving behavior is to collect information about why their habits have changed, and what factors have influenced this change. If you’re able, observe as a passenger. 

Find the problem or cause

Although general declines in vision, hearing, and reflex speed happen as we age, sometimes there is one triggering event that tilts the balance from questionable to unsafe driving. This could be one or a number of the following: medication interactions, change in vision or hearing, loss of strength, memory problems, or anxiety. By finding the reason for the driver’s behavior, you can talk with them about making necessary changes.

Start gently, then state the reason

It’s helpful to ease into the conversation. You could start with talking about a news story about a recent accident. Maybe the older driver has had a recent change in medications or medical changes. You could ask how that has affected or might affect their driving. Gently explain why you need to curtail unsafe driving: to protect the driver or others. 

Talk openly and honestly

Talk it through. Be honest about your concerns and how you’ve arrived at this conclusion. Try to center the blame elsewhere. Discuss your concern for other drivers, or the driver’s passengers. According to the AARP, “Perhaps the best test is whether you want the grandkids as passengers.”1 If you’re not comfortable putting others in the car, then you should be worried for the driver’s sake as well. If you’re convinced it’s time to give up the keys, say so simply and directly but with compassion. 

Understand the reasons for resistance

Often older adults are afraid of the implications of not driving: fewer trips outside the home, being more dependent on others. They may feel like asking for rides is an imposition, and they don’t want to be a burden. Try to reassure them that you’re happy to help and that this is not the end of independence for them. 

Muster help if you need it

Other family members or the driver’s doctor can offer insight into why the driver has become unsafe, especially if they have witnessed unsafe driving firsthand. They can give evidence without judgment and help your loved one realize it’s time to let go of the keys.

Encourage a self-evaluation—not an official test, but a self-test. Many states offer a self-evaluation on their websites. This might help the driver realize the extent of their unsafe driving habits, or their decline in road safety awareness. It might also help pinpoint some problem areas, like night driving or making turns. 

Plan a solution

Once you’ve established the areas of concern—night driving, busy roads or unfamiliar routes, for example—work together if possible to find the ideal workaround. Sometimes that means limiting the time of day a person drives; maybe it means the older driver recognizes the need to surrender the keys. If that is the case, try to offer alternatives for transportation. Many volunteer groups or churches offer ride programs for senior citizens.

Get help from a professional

If, after several heart-to-hearts, the older driver in your life is still unsafe on the road for themselves and others, it might be time for more drastic action. There are organizations that can help and steps that can be taken to have a formal driving assessment done. The result of such a formal assessment may lead to an older driver’s license being revoked.

Related information

Factors that contribute to unsafe driving

Arranging for and conducting a formal driving assessment

Getting help with an unsafe driver

Modifying driving habits of older adults

Physically limiting vehicle access for unsafe drivers

Reviewing driving regulations and legal risks

Unsafe driving warning signs

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