Six ways to help Senior Citizens with their driving

by tracyvides on November 2, 2013

Having an enthusiastic elderly driver in the family sometimes makes people wary. And that is because people often assume all kinds of unkindly things regarding senior citizens, their driving in particular being a hot button issue.

Statistics don’t help either. The elderly, along with the teenagers, run the highest risk of getting killed if involved in a car crash, as per a Pew Research report.

And with baby boomers set to substantially increase in numbers, the number of car crashes involving seniors is expected to rise. Given such a situation, if one gets worried about their elderly father or mother driving well into their 70s, it is understandable. However, just like with everything else in life, there are exceptions here as well. So before you get carried away by fears of what might happen to your 65-year-old mother if you let her drive, you might want to consider that things may not be as bad as you suspect.

Today (October 1) happens to be the International Day of Older Persons, which makes it a timely reminder for us to turn our attention to the older folk in our families. Here are some ways in which you can help your elderly mother, or any family member or friend, with driving as they advance in years.

1. Not everybody ages the same.

Some people lose their fitness earlier than others, so one cannot apply the same yardstick to everybody. Some are sprightly at 75, while some 55-year-olds (technically not even senior citizens yet) are beset by all kinds of health problems. So to assume that once a person has crossed a certain age limit things will go rapidly downhill is simply wrong.

How old is the elderly citizen you are responsible for? How are they keeping fitness wise? Are the on the ball regarding things in general?

A dip in reflexes happens all around. You should be able to notice that in other areas of life as well. For instance, a general sense of forgetfulness, a drop in energy levels, worse eyesight, poorer reflexes, they are all visible in various facets of life, so you don’t have to wait till the person drives to zero in on what’s affecting their driving (if anything).

If there hasn’t been any such loss of form, let them drive without reminding them every single step of the way that they are now a senior hence ought to be more careful.

In fact, appreciate their driving. Encourage them to keep driving on a daily basis. People often don’t drive as much as they used to prior to their retirement, which also affects their driving skills. Sometimes, it’s not even a loss of ability, merely a loss of interest or practice that can make people poor drivers.

2. It’s also a mental thing.

Aging happens not just in the body but also in the mind. And just as in the body, how rapidly one ages in the mind also differs from person to person.

Observation will often give you all the answers you need. Don’t lose patience with your mother if you suspect she isn’t being entirely truthful to you about her driving. Or about what took her so long on the drive back from the grocery store. She may be nervous or may not even have anything to say. Not everybody can articulate what’s up with them. In fact, not everybody even notices if anything is indeed the matter with them.

Which is why as the third party observer, you are in a good position to judge.

Ask her to drive you around. That may help you assess the situation better.

  • How does she park?
  • Is she as much in control of the vehicle as before?
  • Is she responding to other stimuli as you would want her to? (No one loses their ability to drive well overnight.)
  • Is she following traffic rules and regulations without any problems?

If her performance in this regard is satisfactory, let her drive without undue concern.

3. Understand that our own attitude also affects them.

To have someone around you fussing over you endlessly is not good for anybody, especially when the matter is of elderly citizens and their driving. Be careful what you say to them as your words can significantly damage their confidence.

They may well have several years of good driving still left in them, so let them enjoy it.

4. Check out the laws concerning senior citizen driving in your state

Many states across the US are stepping up their efforts to help seniors with their driving. Some of these – such as California, Idaho, Illinois, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oregon and South Carolina — require seniors to undergo written tests and eye exams at regular intervals for license renewal. The law in Colorado requires doctor’s certification for the driving license of the seniors to be renewed.

Check out what the laws in your state stipulate regarding this. We recommend that even if senior citizens are not legally bound in your state to take an eye test every year, it is a very good idea for you to encourage your elderly relatives and friends to sit for it, in their own larger interests. Recommend them a refresher driving course as well if they are over 70.

5. Look up senior-friendly cars.

Certain cars are less of a drain on one’s energy, give a better fuel economy, and are safer and more reliable than others. So if purchasing a new car is on the cards, think long-term and encourage the seniors you know to choose a smaller one, and preferably one with electronic stability control.

6. Help them make friends with their smartphone.

Get a smartphone for your mother, even if she is not particularly interested in new, weird-looking gadgets.

Where a smartphone can help elderly folk the most is via the right apps. There are GPRS apps, apps to help you with your location, telling you when your car is due for the next service or oil check-up, informing you where the nearest gas station is when you are driving, and alerting others if the driver is in trouble or lost.

Research the most useful apps for your mother, and explain them to her. Older people are often wary of technology but if you demonstrate the whole thing to them properly, they will warm up to it. They may scoff at it initially, but they will take to it sooner than you suspect. For better results, encourage your mother to join a community such as the AARP. People are more likely to pick up positive mindsets and habits when they are surrounded by those similar to them but with a strong bend toward making the most of life.

Tracy Vides is associated with The Hartford, an insurance and financial services company, which specializes in automobile insurance. You can catch her on Twitter @TracyVides.

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