How to Talk to Elderly Parents about Driving

According to a Carnegie Mellon University study, the fatality rate for drivers 85 and over is four times higher than it is for teenagers, who are usually pegged as our most reckless drivers. In most of those cases in this motor vehicle accident study, the elderly driver told police that he or she confused the gas and the brake pedals. All of these drivers had passed the written and visual tests, but this does not seem to be enough. Current research suggests that it is complex processing skills, not actual sight or hearing difficulties, that are the root cause of dangerous driving.
Another study, done by Pfizer, in conjunction with Generations United, suggests that finances are not the hardest thing to discuss with aging parents. Their study was aimed at sparking a candid conversation about aging. Reporting on it, Pfizer relates that “Respondents said the hardest conversation to have with elderly parents is telling them to stop driving and hand over their car keys – more difficult (39%) than talking to parents about their final wishes or wills (both 24%).”

How should you approach the difficult discussion with elderly parents about their not-so-clean driving record?

Have a family meeting about the subject of driving.  
This should be done with advance planning by all concerned. Respect and tact are essential.  If you are worried and others in the family will back you up, it may be enough to convince your aging parent to give up the keys.  Be politely insistent. The safety of every person on the road and every pedestrian in your parent’s path is at stake.
Most adult children do not realize that memory loss in an aging parent and driving problems are linked.  One may lose track of the task of driving in the same way she loses track of the conversation. Driving is a very complex task, requiring attentiveness to numerous stimuli at once.  There is a lot at risk with any parent who has memory loss and is still behind the wheel.

Further Actions to Take if Concerned about an Older Family Member's Driving.

1. Write and sign a letter to Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) outlining specific concerns.
2. Law enforcement officers also can send a request for review to DVS if they identify a driver who they believe should either re-test or be checked by a doctor.
3. Talk to a family member's physician to see if the doctor has noticed the same problems.  If so, ask the doctor to submit a request for a written/road test to DVS.  If the physician sees the person is not physically qualified to drive, the doctor can notify the department to that effect and DVS can cancel the driver’s privileges.  
4. DVS can allow the person to keep driving with increased limitations such as roadway speed, daylight only, certain times of the day or within a set limit of miles from his or her home. They can also require follow-up doctors exams. 

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