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Senior Guide for Safe Driving - Part 7

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Senior Guide for Safe Driving

Part 7: When You Are Concerned About A Driver

The time may come when many of us will have to limit or stop driving. Most drivers monitor themselves and gradually limit or stop driving when they feel they are no longer safe. Others may have a medical condition (for example, dementia or an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease) which prevents them from recognizing that their driving abilities have diminished. Some fear the loss of independence.

If you are concerned about the driving ability of a family member or someone you know, it is important to approach the issue with sensitivity. Be positive and supportive. Allow them to have an active role in the decision making process. Remember that impairments vary significantly among individuals. Age alone should not be a basis for limiting someone’s driving privilege or taking it away. You should be concerned about the person’s abilities, not just their age.

An older driver may think that authorities, friends, or relatives are “out to get them.” Therefore, it is important to be sensitive about how you start the conversation.

Assessing the Situation

If you have not already done so, ride with the driver (if it is safe), observe their driving habits, and talk about the things you observe. Depending on the severity of what you observe, a refresher driving course or an adjustment to the person’s driving habits may be appropriate. In some cases, the only safe alternative is for them to stop driving.

Driving Assessment Tips and Checklist

Things to look for when assessing driving skills:

Abrupt lane changes?

Brakes and accelerates smoothly?

Reacts to changes in their driving environment?

Drifts into other lanes?

Does they tire easily?

Difficulty reading traffic signs?

Uses and/or cancels their turn signals?

Drives too slowly or too fast?

Checks before changing lanes, pulling from the curb, or backing?

Difficulty turning to look over their shoulder?

Pays attention to traffic signs, traffic signals, pedestrians, or bicyclists?

What are the reactions of other drivers? Does they notice these reactions?

Evaluating Observations and Concerns

Make a list of your observations and concerns or use the checklist provided. If applicable, discuss your observations with other family members and try to get their support. If medications may be a factor, check with a pharmacist to see if any of the medications could have an adverse affect on the person’s driving ability.

Discussion Tips and Planning 

  • Start early—Preferably, conversations about safe driving should start long before driving becomes a problem. Establishing open dialogue allows time for the older adult to consider their driving skills and make appropriate modifications. 
  • Choose who will do the talking—Hearing sensitive information from the right person can make a big difference. To increase your chance of success, carefully select the person who will initiate the discussion. It is important that the person chosen be someone that the recipient trusts. 
  • Have the conversation—Start the conversation by letting the recipient know that you have concerns about their safety and the safety of others. Offer help and support. Suggest they complete the self-assessment questionnaire.

Things You Can Do To Help

To assist the older driver, suggest traffic routes that are less demanding. In addition, suggest: 

  • Limiting or not driving at night. 
  • Driving during the time of day when traffic is light. 
  • Avoiding difficult intersections. 
  • Driving for short distances or limiting driving to essential places. 

Help develop specific routes to the places they frequent. Practice the routes with them to make sure they are familiar with them and can safely reach their destination. If selecting a safe route is not possible, check to see if alternative transportation is available. 

Route Development Tips 

  • Consider a route with right turns instead of left turns. 
  • Choose streets with light traffic, clearly marked signs, and well-marked lanes.
  • If night driving is necessary the route should be well lit.

Planning Alternate Transportation Options

Identify ways the older driver can continue to have an active lifestyle. Determine in advance what transportation options are available. Check with the Agency on Aging. Also see the list of resources to determine if transportation programs are available. Ask relatives, friends, and neighbors to provide transportation. Create a contact list and work out a transportation schedule. 

Make an appointment at your local DMV for the person to apply for an identification (ID) card. DMV will exchange a valid driver license for an ID card at no charge if the person is no longer able to drive safely or no longer wishes to drive.

Getting Additional Help

If the person is not receptive to your concerns or suggestions, and the severity of the situation warrants, they may be more receptive to advice from a personal physician, close friend, or other family member. Doctors are required to report and explain medical findings to DMV. These include symptoms such as: 

  • Lapse of consciousness 
  • Stroke 
  • Parkinson’s disease 
  • Cognitive impairments such as dementia 
  • Sleep disorders 
  • Diabetes 

DMV’s Driver Safety office will contact the driver for an interview to discuss the information received from their doctor.

Taking Action

When discussions and other methods of persuasion fail, and driving presents an immediate danger to the safety of the driver or others, it is important to act quickly. Law enforcement intervention may be necessary in situations where the driver is unsafe and/or unwilling to curtail driving. 

Anticipating Reactions

An older driver may exhibit negative emotions about giving up their driver license. These reactions are often more about the message than the messenger. The thought of giving up their driver license can be very upsetting. By remaining calm, you can ensure a productive discussion and diffuse negative emotions about this sensitive topic.

You may feel fear, anger, frustration, and even guilt for assisting in depriving someone of their freedom to drive. However, do not let your emotions delay the conversation. Although it may require several conversations to achieve your goal, it is more important to keep the person and others safe.

Help After the Conversation

While many drivers ultimately agree to limit or stop driving, you may need to refer your family member to DMV for an evaluation of their driving ability. To refer the driver, you must submit a completed Request for Driver Reexamination (DS 699) form. The form can be obtained at www.dmv.ca.gov or by calling 1-800-777-0133 to have the form mailed to you.

You may write a letter to your local DMV Driver Safety office. Visit DMV’s website for specific office locations. Identify the driver you want to report and give your reason(s) for making the report. You may ask to have your name kept confidential: DMV will make every effort to comply with your request. We understand that reporting someone, especially a relative, close friend, or patient, is a sensitive issue. We also want to make sure that potentially unsafe drivers are evaluated.

Behind-the-Wheel Training

Driving schools are another resource for refreshing, assessing, or improving your driving skills. All professional driving schools in California are licensed by DMV. Check your local telephone directory for a list of driving schools in your area, and then check their license status on DMV’s website at www.dmv.ca.gov.

See the list of resources for other alternatives.

Conclusion

Transitioning from driver to passenger is not always easy or smooth. This lifestyle change will require your understanding and support. Remember: 

  • Be patient, open, and sincere. 
  • Do not let fear or guilt delay addressing your concerns. 
  • Be diligent in your efforts and share your concern for the individual’s and other’s safety.

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