Having That Driving Talk With Seniors

. September 3, 2015.
Cab

By Stephen Roberts PhD
Associate Professor of the University of Toledo College of Health Sciences

As we get older we lose our energy, we lose our youthful bodies and in many cases we lose our ability to drive a car well in all situations. This loss is threatening since it interferes with activities and relationships.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “in 2012 there were 5560 people 65 and older killed, and 214,000 injured, in motor vehicle traffic crashes” in the United States.  In that same year in Ohio, 209 individuals age 65 and older were killed, with the 85 year-old and plus drivers accounting for 49 of those deaths.

The deaths and injuries that occur on our roads cause many of us to worry about the driving of older relatives – for this article let’s pick Dad. Many of us struggle with the best way to convince Dad that he has a problem – and then to have a productive discussion about how he can make his driving less risky.

Gathering information

According to NHTSA we need to first gather adequate information. Does Dad:

• Fail to yield properly

• Wander in and out of lanes

• Not stop completely at stop signs

• Drive too quickly or slowly

• Make dangerous left hand turns 

• Gets lost

We should also be concerned about non-driving issues including: confusion, loss of coordination and hearing, extreme fatigue or agitation.

Show respect and work with dad rather than dictating solutions. Empathize and show compassion rather than reprimanding and pointing out faults. “I” messages rather than “you” messages are often more effective. Say things like “I am concerned,” rather than ‘“you have a problem.”

Taking action

Perhaps a friend or clergyman that Dad respects should be asked to discuss the issue with him. According to Connie Matthiessen of Caring.com, if Dad has some driving problems that you are aware of simply ask how his driving is going to get the conversation started. Use reflective listening when discussing his concerns which means rephrasing what he says to you as a means of showing your understanding and concern.

Talk to Dad about the suggestions that the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health make about being safer on the road. These include:

• Having medications examined to see if they are interfering with driving

• Having hearing and vision assessed

• Not driving at night or in bad weather

• Figuring out safer routes

• Avoiding high traffic areas and rush hours

• Avoiding left turns if they are too challenging

• Not tailgating 

• Not playing the radio loudly or using the cell phone

• Making sure the windshield, headlights and mirrors are not dirty

• Consider taking a cab or a bus or hitching a ride with a friend

• Consider taking refresher driving courses.

Falling through safety concerns

The State of Ohio does not have any age-based regulations for driving license renewal. Older and younger drivers need to appear in person to renew and take a vision test. An unsafe driver investigation can be initiated by the police, a physician and others. Some are questioning this policy and feel more should be done to assure that all senior drivers are tested for competence by the license bureau.

Of course there may come a time when the decision has to be made to stop Dad’s driving altogether. Lori Smith of Holland,  Ohio was forced to intercede with the driving of her grandfather. Lori says “my grandfather would drive over a big rock at the end of the driveway, ran over a mailbox and worst of all ran stop signs.” This was during broad daylight.

To persuade her grandfather to give up his license the family had to hold an intervention with clergy and a police officer present. The grandfather fought it but finally gave up his license. It was a sad day for the grandfather but a relief for everyone else.

Is it time to have that conversation now with someone you care about?

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