According to research by AAA, seniors have the highest crash death rate per mile driven, even though they drive fewer miles than younger people. Because Americans are healthier and living longer than ever before, seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of 7-10 years.
By the year 2030, 70 million Americans in the U.S. will be over age 65–and 85 to 90% of them will be licensed to drive. Per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase beginning at age 75 and rise sharply after age 80. This is mainly due to the increased risk of injury and medical complications along with certain medications, rather than an increased tendency to get into crashes. (Source: SeniorDriving.AAA.com)
But waiting until there is an accident to begin the not-driving discussion with your mother can be devastating to everyone involved, especially to your mom. Asking your mother to give up their driving privileges–her symbol of freedom–and hand over her car keys is a daunting task for adult children even when there’s a good reason to approach the subject.
What do you do when it’s time for your mom to stop driving?
First, don’t wait until there’s an accident to start a driving conversation with your mother. Open communication needs to begin when the first troubling signs appear. Has a parent’s neighbors or friends raised any concerns about your mother’s ability to drive? Are you visiting your mom enough to see how she is doing in her everyday life? Do you allow your mother to drive you from time-to-time so you can assess her driving skills? Does your mom ever mention getting lost or having trouble seeing at night?
If so, then it’s time to start talking about her driving ability.
An excellent place to begin is to see if you can go with your mother to a scheduled doctor’s appointment and allow her to drive. This will enable you to view how your mother is driving and get to know her primary care physician. It’s essential to get to know your mom’s doctor because they can be a real ally in getting your mother to stop driving. Often elderly parents listen to their doctor’s opinions over their family.
If your mom likes using the computer, you can approach her on taking a self-test to keep her insurance rates down. Senior Driving AAA offers a Self-Rating Tool that can be printed at SeniorDriving.AAA.com/Evaluate-Your-Driving-Ability/Self-Rating-Tool (opens in a .pdf).
The AAA booklet’s 15 questions cover subjects like:
My thoughts wander when I drive,
Traffic situations make me angry, and
I signal and check to the rear when I change lanes.
There’s a self-scoring interpretation at the end of the test which can further evaluate your mother’s cognitive skills. The score number will help her (and you) analyze her driving abilities. If your mom is reluctant to participate in any form of testing, you can use the booklet as a guide to ask your mom specific questions about her driving or what to watch for when she drives with you as a passenger.
Research by the Hartford and MIT AgeLab revealed that of older adults who reported that when someone had talked with them about their driving, more than half said they followed the suggestions of others. Women generally complied more readily than men.
The Hartford and MIT AgeLab has a great list of driving conversation openers in their booklet; “We Need to Talk: Family Conversations with Older Drivers.” (opens in a .pdf)
Here are four driving conversation suggestions:
1. “I’m glad that you’ve cut down on night driving. I would never want you to drive when you’re not comfortable or feel that it’s too risky.”
2. “Have you asked your doctor about the effects of your new medication on your driving?”
3. “I’m worried about your getting lost.”
4. If your mom has a small accident: “You were fortunate. I know you would feel terrible if someone was hurt when you were driving.” You can also substitute “if someone was hurt” with “if a small child was hurt” or “if you hit a small animal.” Sometimes the idea of injury something or someone more vulnerable like a child or a small animal they love (dog or cat) can start your mom to think about her driving ability.
Consider implementing a transportation plan before your mother has to give up driving. A plan will help move your mom in the direction of voluntarily giving up her keys. If she brings up the fact that she’s no longer comfortable driving at night, but she loves to attend an evening dance class or volunteer group, offer to pay for a ride service like Women Driving Women to drive her once a week.
You can present a driving service as a birthday or Christmas gift. You can say, “Mom, if you don’t want to drive at night anymore, I/we can arrange for Women Driving Women to pick you up, drive you there and bring you home. That way, you don’t have to give up something you love to do. I’d love to be able to provide this for you.”
Helping your mom start using a driving service before she needs to stop driving can get her used to the idea of allowing others to drive her where she wants or needs to be. Providing another form of transportation will help your mom realize there are options available to her for when she decides to stop driving. A driving service suited explicitly for women provides you with something to offer your mom where she feels comfortable when you need to take her keys away.
If your mother is reluctant to use a driving service consider offering a transportation service once a month. Propose paying for the two of you to go to dinner using the service or offer to pay for your mom and a friend to be driven somewhere. Once your mother experiences the idea of having the same driver when she needs one (the service Women Driving Women offers) and how convenient it is, she will be more open to the idea of cutting back on her driving.
Keep in mind that the idea of cutting back or giving up driving altogether is a painful transition for your aging mom.
You can assist your mother with this tough decision by considering what you are asking from her point of view and initiating regular non-combative conversations about driving. Hopefully, your mother’s progression from driving herself to being driven will happen naturally over time, providing her with the time she needs to adjust to a new normal. Rewarding driving discussions with your mom start with you being well prepared and understanding just how difficult not being able to drive is to your mother.
Your mother’s ability to maintain her independence is crucial for her mental health and continued engagement with the outside world. If your mom lives in San Diego County or Sonoma County, California, consider giving her the gift of the Women Driving Women transportation service. To find out more about Women Driving Women’s services for senior women, check out our Services page.
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