When Should Our Parents Stop Driving?

Published: December 2, 2019

When Should Our Parents Stop Driving?

December 2–6, 2019 is Older Driver Safety Awareness Week

Hanging up the car keys as we get older is one of the greatest challenges to senior independence. It’s hard to face the fact that something we’ve been doing for decades might be dangerous not only to us but to those around us. As our parents reach their later years, convincing them that in some cases this is simply the best choice can seem impossible. Advanced vision loss, severe mobility challenges or dementia are examples of when a senior may not be safe behind the wheel.

In many other cases, a senior’s ability to drive falls into a gray area. Maybe vision is adequate for daytime driving, but not at night. Maybe they have a shoulder problem that makes it hard to look backward. Maybe slower reaction time makes it unsafe to drive in heavy traffic.

Each person is unique—if you’re not sure if your parent is safe to drive, ask their doctor for a recommendation for a senior driving specialist.

Sometimes, it’s not the senior who needs to adapt, but their car!

According to AAA, when seniors are experiencing driving problems, their car might be a big contributor to the problem. It’s important to keep the car in good repair, of course. Replace worn windshield wipers, add better mirrors, and have the car regularly inspected. If that’s not enough, it might be that a senior’s car no longer is the best one for their needs. It may be too large. It may not have the best visibility.

Although they might feel most comfortable in their old, familiar vehicle, trading it in for a newer model could be a better choice. As we approach 2020, the technology in newer vehicles is astonishing. From back-up cameras to parking assist, side-mirror motion alerts, and improved automatic brakes, it may be easier for your parents to drive in a car that offers some of these safety features.

AAA recommends these features in particular for senior drivers:

  • Forward collision warning/mitigation. These systems can help prevent crashes by warning drivers of a potential collision or by automatically applying the brakes. For older drivers, this technology can improve reaction times and reduce crashes by up to 20 percent.
  • Automatic crash notification. These systems automatically alert emergency services in the event of a crash. Older drivers are more likely to suffer from serious injuries of a crash, which means these systems can provide a greater safety benefit.
  • Parking assist with a rearview display. This technology includes backup cameras and obstacle-detection warning systems, which can help prevent collisions when pulling out of a parking space.
  • Parking assist with cross-traffic warning. These systems utilize radar sensor technology to notify drivers of crossing vehicles when backing out of a parking space, and on some vehicles, the systems automatically can apply the brakes to prevent a collision.
  • Semi-autonomous parking assistance. These systems take over steering while moving into a parallel parking space, which can reduce stress and make parking easier for older drivers—and safer for the cars around them.
  • Navigation assistance. Turn-by-turn GPS navigation systems can provide older drivers with an increased feeling of safety, confidence, attentiveness, and relaxation, which can help them remain focused on the road and comfortable behind the wheel.

If you’re preparing to discuss this topic with your parents, know that it’s common to feel pretty intimidated by the cars of today. There’s a learning curve when it comes to using all those high-tech features, even for younger drivers. With the help of a senior driving coach, your parents can enjoy these new features without feeling overwhelmed.

Just remember that making the effort is worth it. Keeping a senior safely behind the wheel can help them stay independent and active in the community. They might be able to continue their paid or volunteer work or stay in their own homes longer. Studies show driving cessation puts older adults at higher risk of depression, inactivity, and even financial insecurity. Studies also show that once seniors get the hang of new automotive technologies, they usually gain a lot of confidence and a sense of freedom.

Used with information from AAA. Visit the AAA website to find information for senior drivers and to learn about the CarFit program, developed by the American Society on Aging in collaboration with AAA, AARP, and the American Occupational Therapy Association.