When and how to talk to senior drivers about safe driving?

Talking to Grandma about safe driving was challenging. Like other older adults, Grandma correlates her independence and freedom with her ability to drive. Any time my family broached the subject, she got angry and defensive, and walked out of the room. But, once we effectively communicated to her that the objective of our conversation was to facilitate and improve her driving (and not to limit her ability to drive), she was all ears! So, how should you communicate with your seniors about safe driving?

Be respectful and positive. Don’t start with a list of warning signs that you’ve observed. Also, don’t teach Grandma how to drive at the family’s Christmas dinner (when the whole family is around). Make privacy a priority. Nobody likes being called a dangerous driver (or old)! The purpose is to improve and facilitate the senior driver’s driving. More than 18% of the drivers on the road today are senior-adults beyond the age of 65. (https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2015/dl20.cfm). If we’re able to handle our conversations about safe driving maturely, we’ll be able to decrease the rate of senior accidents significantly.

Typically, one’s chances of getting injured in an accident increases with age. But age isn’t the determinant factor. Unsafe driving is generally the result of an underlying medical condition and/or medication. So what, if any, are the warning signs? In my experience, the best way to determine whether Grandma’s still safe behind the wheel, is to get into the car with her. I take (copious!) mental notes of the signs of poor driving (remember—don’t search for poor driving). If it’s a minor mistake or two, address it politely and instantly. Here are a few signs to look out for:

  • Is Grandma having difficulty using the pedals?
  • Does Grandma know the purpose of each pedal?
  • Is Grandma jumping signals?
  • Can Grandma see the little girl waiting to cross the street?
  • Is Grandma missing stop signs?
  • Is Grandma using the left and right indicator correctly? Is she swerving between lanes?
  • Does Grandma seem unnerved by heavy traffic?
  • Does the sound of the ambulance/fire truck bother her?
  • Is Grandma speeding?
  • Is Grandma driving too slow?

Traffic tickets are also a good indicator of poor driving. If there are more than two in the recent months, it’s time to talk about it. If you find that a senior adult is exhibiting one or more of the serious warning signs, such as, for example, frequently jumping signals or using the pedals incorrectly, I would consider discussing the benefits of getting a comprehensive driving assessment to help identify and address the risky driving behaviors. Alternatively, download ride sharing apps for Grandma such as Uber or Lyft.

Don’t make assumptions about one’s driving ability simply based on age. Do not assume that driving should be stopped altogether because he/she is beyond 70. Become the ‘co-pilot’ and assess for yourself.






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