When Marina Tarasova was worried about her 70-something father driving at night, she wasn’t sure how to broach the topic. She didn’t have to worry: Her dad brought up his own concerns as soon as the conversation began. “I prodded him a little, but I’m grateful that he's made the decision to curb nighttime driving on his own,” recalls the New York health care executive.
We’re living longer, and that means we’re also driving more miles. However, as we age safety concerns increase: Seniors are involved in more fatal crashes than anyone else on the road. Fatal crashes increase sharply for the 70 to 74 age group, but occur most often for drivers who are 85 and older.
Pay attention to cues. It’s unlikely that your elderly loved one will admit to driving difficulties. Instead, you’ll need to be in tune with changes. Do you notice dents and scrapes in their car? Have they gotten multiple tickets in a row, or do they seem to be having trouble seeing or hearing? All may be indications that driving is getting more difficult.
Listen — just listen. Just because you haven’t discussed a loved one’s driving doesn’t mean he or she isn’t thinking about it too. Perhaps they’ve noticed more difficulties at dusk, for example. Tune into that and set up some one-on-one time. Start with open-ended questions: Ask if friends of theirs have had to give up driving, for example. Or find out if your loved one feels that their vision is changing. Keep an open mind and focus your talking points to reflect your concerns for your loved ones safety (and others who are on the road).
Make a plan. Solo driving isn’t just about getting behind the wheel. It’s also about getting groceries when they want or visiting friends no matter the day or time. To help transition into a future that may not include independent driving, create alternatives. They may include widely available ride-sharing options such as Uber or Lyft, or driving only during daylight hours.
Work together over time. Your conversation may start with denial and anger, but don’t stop having a caring, compassionate conversation. Avoid confrontation if you can and instead express empathy. One day someone may have the very same conversation with you.