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Elders and Driving: When to Go and When to Stop

By , 11:28 pm on

By Lee Nyberg

Seniors, like everyone else, value their independence very highly. Going where and when they want to is a big part of that. Just think how you feel when your car is in the shop and you must rely on someone else to drive you. Since we’ve all heard how our population is aging, a growing number of older drivers comes as no surprise. In “100 Years Old and Still Driving,” authors Carol Bicak and Michael O’Connor noted that there were nearly 22 million drivers 70 and older in the US in 2008. Extrapolating to 2020, there will be about 45-50 million drivers in this age range. Having more older drivers is okay, as long as the individuals stop driving once they:

• Begin to get lost in familiar areas
• Ignore traffic signs and signals
• Can no longer judge distances (cut off other drivers, straddle lanes, make wide turns)
• Use poor judgment
• React too slowly to driving emergencies
• Become easily agitated or angry while driving

Many older drivers live in small towns, where driving has fewer distractions than in cities and other drivers watch for them, according to Fred Zwoncechek of Nebraska’s Office of Highway Safety. This is one reason why Nebraska has 40 drivers over 100.

If you have a parent or grandparent who is still driving, ride with them once a month or so. If they are having trouble, ask them to have their driving evaluated via the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety GrandDriver Program. It may be time to create a caring plan to talk to them about their driving. Harriet Vines, author of “Age Smart: How to Age Well, Stay Fit and Be Happy,” suggests:
• Be empathetic. Put yourself in your parent’s place.
• Ask others to join in the meeting. It helps to involve other family members in the discussion—to help, but not to confront.
• Keep the conversation neutral, honest and on an adult level. Express your concerns for safety and your love and understanding for your parent or grandparent.
• Encourage your senior to use positive language to describe their situation to others and help them gain comfort in asking for assistance.
• Help the senior make a schedule. He or she can plan activities and combine trips on one or two days when a senior caregiver can drive them.

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