Ing + McKee

When Should Senior Drivers Hang Up Their Keys?

March 15, 2023

Stories about senior citizens getting into car accidents are commonplace. You may have heard of an elderly man who accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake and crashed into another car. Or perhaps the story of an elderly woman who veered off the road and onto a sidewalk filled with pedestrians. And you may wonder about the safety of your own loved one who, at the same time, doesn’t want to sacrifice their independence by hanging up their car keys for good.

But the statistics are unsettling. There are approximately 2.7 million seniors on Canadian roads, a number that is expected to double by 2040. Statistics Canada reports that drivers over 70 cause the most accidents after teen drivers.

Of course, giving up driving can be a difficult decision, and it can affect your loved one’s sense of independence. It’s important to understand red flags that can indicate when giving up driving may be the safest decision.

Medical conditions that interfere with driving

As people age, they might struggle with a variety of medical conditions, many of which make driving more difficult. Examples of medical conditions that may affect driving and safety include dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), vision loss, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, diabetes and hearing impairment.

Prescription medications also play a role in driving performance. Side effects can include drowsiness, confusion, tremors and vision issues. If your loved one is taking multiple prescriptions, it’s critical to understand the potential side effects and how they can interfere with driving.

What are the warning signs of unsafe driving?

Here’s a checklist so you can better understand whether your loved one’s driving habits are becoming a safety hazard.

  1. Speeding tickets or violations. If you’ve noticed changes in your loved one’s driving, ask whether they have received any speeding tickets or violations recently. If the answer is yes, get more details to understand what’s going on. An elderly relative who doesn’t typically receive driving violations but suddenly begins to may be a concern.
  2. Vehicle damage. Periodically check your loved one’s vehicle for damage. A family member who is usually careful about their vehicle’s appearance may suddenly have more dents and scratches.  
  3. More “close calls.” An increase in close calls may indicate that a factor such as deteriorating eyesight or slower motor skills could be responsible.
  4. Changes in mood while driving. If your loved one is feeling agitated, struggling to concentrate or getting angry behind the wheel on a regular basis, it may no longer be safe for them to drive.
  5. Changes in driving behaviour. One of the best ways to understand a relative’s driving ability is frequent observation. Does he or she wait too long to respond to stop signs or traffic signals? Have they suddenly started to tailgate or drift too close to the centerline? Look for behaviours that appear out of line with their previous driving abilities.
  6. Friends are voicing concerns. You may live out of town or be unable to consistently observe your relative’s driving habits. Talk with your relative’s friends and neighbours. Have they noticed any changes? Ask friends and people who live nearby to observe your loved one’s driving habits and alert you to any changes.

Moving forward with greater safety

There isn’t a magical age when people should stop driving. What’s more, losing the ability to drive can interfere with a person’s sense of freedom. How should you handle this scenario? Having a proactive strategy in place can make a difference.

Learn about alternative transportation options and accompany your loved one when they first try one out, such as public transportation or a senior rideshare program. Also, talk to neighbours and family members about providing additional support. Can a neighbour take your loved one to an occasional doctor appointment? Can family members alternate providing transportation for regular outings, such as grocery shopping?

Seek opportunities to build independence and well-being that don’t involve driving, such as volunteering at a school within walking distance. Having a sense of independence and purpose can make the transition from driver to passenger easier.

If it’s not yet time for your loved one to relinquish the keys entirely, talk to your insurance professional about ways to provide the greatest level of safety for them when they are on the road.

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