Columns Opinion Your Views — 17 February 2012
Opinion: Is dad (or mom) too old to drive?

Is dad too old to drive? Maybe. It’s not just a matter of age — it’s a matter of ability.

I know people who are pretty scary behind the wheel: some are older, some are younger, some are women and some are men. One of these men was my father, who was about 81 when I decided not to ride with him.

My dad never had much patience as a driver, so fortunately I learned to drive from my older sister. But as he approached his 80s, he began exhibiting behavior that exceeded impatience. He would straddle the center line, was easily distracted, parked too close to other cars and would often forget how to get to places he’d been a hundred times. I worried about his safety, my safety and the safety of everyone else on the road.

So what did I do? My family and I, with help from his doctor, asked my father to give up the car keys. Easy, right?

Wrong. Convincing anyone to give up driving may be one of the most difficult conversations you’ll ever have. But how do you know if your parents shouldn’t be driving?  You need to look at how they handle a car and their mental and physical abilities. According to the American Association of Retired Persons and the American Automobile Association, here are some signs it’s time to limit or stop dad’s driving:

1. Almost crashing, with frequent close calls.

2. Finding dents and scrapes on the car, mailboxes, garage doors and curbs.

3. Getting lost, especially in familiar locations.

4. Having trouble seeing or following traffic signals, road signs or pavement markings.

5. Making slow or poor decisions in traffic, particularly improper left-hand turns.

6. Confusing the gas and brake pedals.

7. Having a hard time turning around to check the rear view while backing up.

8. Getting several warnings from the police.

If you think your parents’ or grandparents’ driving is unsafe, it’s time to have a conversation about your concerns. Appealing to their sense of responsibility can be a good approach. Tell him you know he doesn’t want to hurt anyone else. Ask someone they respect — such as a trusted family member, friend or attorney — to talk to them. Asking their physician to write a prescription that says, “No Driving,” can be helpful. Offer your unconditional love and support and be prepared to have more than one conversation.

If there is a significant safety issue involved, and as a last resort, take away the car keys, disable the car or remove the car.

Lastly, be prepared to offer alternatives to unlimited driving such as driving only during the day; transitioning to other family members providing rides; having groceries and medications delivered; and using transportation services for older adults. There are several options in Alexandria. For information, call the Division of Aging and Adult Services at 703-746-5999.

The writer is a longterm coordinator with the City of Alexandria’s Divison of Aging and Adult Services.

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