March 2, 2020

​Elderly Drivers—Safety First!

Q:We’re worried about our widowed 86-year-old mother who lives alone and still drives. Can you advise us on how and when to limit or stop her from driving?

A:You describe an increasingly frequent situation that families and practicing physicians face daily. Unfortunately, no guaranteed trouble-free approach to this often-sensitive subject exists. We all age differently, and circumstances can vary dramatically, so no age-setting for everyone to stop driving is possible.

The main issue is whether your mom, regardless of her age, is a safe driver and poses no increased danger to herself or others. The authorities take the position of helping drivers stay behind the wheel as long as it is safely possible, regardless of age, and we do too. Here are some suggestions:

Concern should be based on risk, so assessing risk is paramount. If you cannot assess by direct observation your mom herself, her closest friends and neighbors and her driving record are reasonable starting points. Talk with your mom about her driving. Use news and magazine articles to start the conversation. Do those who drive with her express concern or apprehension? Has she had near misses; accidents; fender benders; or scrapes, scratches, or dents on her car lately? Has she had two or more traffic violations or warnings in the past two years? Does she worry about her driving, or complain about the traffic speed and the increasing unpredictability of other drivers or pedestrians? Is she anxious about driving at night or has she gotten “lost” recently? Has she noticed people honk at her more than usual or use obscene language or gestures at her? A yes to any of these warrants a conversation.

Since it’s sometimes hard for people to realize that they’re no longer safe driving, a good place to start is to suggest that she take a self-assessment (e.g., AAA’s “Drivers 65 Plus” self-evaluation*), either online or on paper, and go from there.

Involve her primary-care physician. Communication with her doctor is important since physicians may be legally obligated to report concerns to the appropriate agency. Her doctor may shed additional light on her health/functional status or refer her for appropriate assessments to determine her driving risk.

Develop an alternative transportation plan that’s realistic, dependable, and sustainable. Independence and mobility are often anxiety-producing issues for high-functioning elderly people. There must be considerable thought about how she’s going to get around if she’s not driving. Even if your mom isn’t currently at risk, this is good contingency planning.

Get additional information. Some valuable resources include AARP, Centers for Discease Control and Prevention, the National Institute on Aging, and University of Michigan’s “SAFER Driving” workbook.

Thank God for loving parents and caring children. May His blessings attend your family as you navigate through the challenges of the cycle of life.

Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.