Seniors and Driving: A Guide

Warning Signs of an Unsafe Elderly Driver

How can you tell when the time has come for someone to stop driving? It isn’t always immediately obvious when an elderly person begins to have trouble behind the wheel. Your parent or other aging loved one may not notice that her driving skills are deteriorating or may not want to acknowledge it — and you may not care to either.

Of course you want your parent to maintain her independence as long as possible, but don’t wait for an accident to happen before you intervene. We’ve developed guidelines that will help you avoid being an alarmist yet also realize when the time has arrived that driving is no longer a safe activity for the person in your care.

Watch for the following signs of a dangerous driver.

1. Car Insurance Changes or Traffic Tickets

If you’ve observed some questionable driving on your aging loved one’s part, ask whether they’ve gotten any tickets for speeding or other violations. Naturally, it’s best to do this in a neutral, non-accusatory way at a time when they’re not behind the wheel.

If you’re not comfortable asking about tickets, ask whether your loved one’s car insurance rate has gone up. If the answer is yes, this may be a sign that they’ve had recent driving infractions.

This is an especially telling sign for a driver that typically has not had tickets or warnings from law enforcement in the past.

2. Damage to the Car

When your aging loved one is not with you, walk around their car look for signs of damage. Everyone’s car gets nicked now and then by someone else’s door in a parking lot, but does her car have the kind of scratches or dents that could indicate driving mishaps? If so, ask her about them.

3. Reluctance to Drive

Notice whether your parent is reluctant to drive, seems tense or exhausted after driving or complains of getting lost. She may, for example, decline invitations to social events that require her to drive, particularly at night. This may be her way of acknowledging that she’s aware of her own limitations and is taking steps to avoid an accident.

4. Friends’ Observations

Discreetly check in with your loved one’s friends and neighbors and ask if they’ve noticed any driving problems. Don’t wait for your parent’s friends or neighbors to call you if you’re worried about your parent’s driving. They may feel uncomfortable approaching you with any concerns but may talk with you if you contact them directly.

If you live far from your parents, try to identify one or two such people who would be willing to keep you informed about your parent’s driving and other safety matters. Contact them regularly, and make sure they have your contact information too, so they can reach you if anything comes up.

5. Driving Behavior Changes

Take several drives with your aging loved one at the wheel, and observe their driving with an open mind.

Are they tense? Do they lean forward in their seat and appear worried or preoccupied? Does he or she often express irritation at other drivers? Do they seem particularly tired after driving? If so, your loved one is probably beginning to have some anxiety about driving.

When you accompany your loved one on an errand or an outing, encourage them to take the wheel and look for these signs of driving problems:

  • Do they fasten their seat belt?
  • Do they sit comfortably at the wheel, or do they crane forward or show signs of discomfort?
  • Do they seem tense and preoccupied, or easily distracted?
  • Are they aware of traffic lights, road signs, pedestrians and the reactions of other motorists?
  • Do they often tailgate or drift toward the oncoming lane or into other lanes?
  • Do they react slowly or with confusion in unexpected situations?
  • Do they consistently wait too long to respond to traffic lights or other driving cues?
  • Do they tailgate?
  • Do they stay in their own lane or let the car drift very close to the center line?
  • Does he or she complain of getting lost more than she used to?If you drive with him a few times and notice problems, it’s time to initiate a discussion about your concerns and whether it might be time for him to stop driving.

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