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Getting help with an unsafe driver


You’ve tried reasoning, you’ve tried begging. You’ve had the conversation several times before, and yet an unsafe older driver still insists on taking the car out. This article outlines ways to get help and how to enlist others to prevent dangerous driving.

When is it time to get help?

It’s safe to say that if you’ve tried to curtail unsafe driving several times before, and the behavior hasn’t changed—or has even worsened—it’s time to get help. Even if you haven’t talked to the older driver in your life yet about stopping driving specifically, there are several reasons you might want to bring other people into the conversation.

  • Reasoning doesn’t work. If you’ve already had a conversation with reasoned, evidence-based solutions to get the driver to correct their behavior, you might need to ask for reinforcements. 
  • There’s been a serious accident or string of accidents. Accidents are a clear warning sign that extra persuasion is needed. If the driver has had a recent accident or two, it’s definitely time to convince them they need help.
  • Anger or denial about driving trouble. If you’ve discussed unsafe driving behavior, or have been informed of it, and the older driver refuses to acknowledge the issue or reacts angrily, having trusted family members or even professionals backing you up can defuse the potentially difficult situation.

Who can help?

Once you’ve decided to bring in some backup, there are plenty of people who can help you out. In most cases, this will be a conversation, but if the unsafe driving persists, you might need to take legal action by reaching out to a lawyer, the Department of Motor Vehicles, or even the police.

  • Eye doctor or physician. A trusted family physician can be your best ally when it comes to explaining the effects of aging, illness, and medication on driving safety. Sometimes your loved one’s doctor may be able to recommend restricted driving if they see something concerning in exam results. Keep in mind that privacy laws don’t allow doctors to share medical information with people without the patient’s permission. Some physicians, though, can write a formal letter or medical status report for the Department of Motor Vehicles in extreme circumstances, such as imminent danger.
  • Family members. Accord to a Hartford/MIT AgeLab survey, 50% of older married drivers would prefer to hear about driving concerns from their spouse.1 If this is an option, it might be a comfort to the driver to hear concerns from their spouse or partner. Otherwise, adult children or adult grandchildren might offer a loving, but firm, perspective on when driving has become dangerous.
  • Trusted friend. If anyone in your loved one’s circle of friends has recently made the decision to give up the keys, getting their help might be a great step. They can offer advice and reassurance on life after independent driving. 
  • Attorney. The family attorney can explain the legal ramifications of insisting on driving when the driver is unsafe. Sometimes hearing the threat of tickets, large fines, or even jail can convince an older driver that it’s not worth the risks.
  • Department of Motor Vehicles. Depending on where you live, the laws and requirements differ regarding reporting unsafe drivers. There are no national standards for revoking driver privileges. Some states allow people to anonymously report unsafe drivers over 65, while others require full documentation. However, if the older driver in your life has demonstrated seriously unsafe behavior, it might be better to take this seemingly drastic route, rather than risk a serious or fatal accident occuring.
  • Police. If the driver is currently on the road and you believe that they are a threat to themselves or others on the road, call the police and report the behavior, including vehicle information and location if you can. Depending on where you live, the police may or may not be able to intervene. But if they witness reckless or dangerous driving they can intervene immediately. 

Related information

Arranging for and conducting a formal driving assessment

Curtailing unsafe driving habits

Discussing driving with an older adult

Factors that contribute to unsafe driving

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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