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How to Know When It’s Time to Take Away the Car Keys

Gaining the ability to drive represents a newfound freedom for many teenagers and young adults. While this freedom and independence last for a majority of our lives, there may come a time when it’s unsafe for us to continue driving.

There are over 45 million drivers over the age of 65 in the United States but, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those over age 75 are more likely to have fatal crashes than younger drivers. “Old age is associated with various impairments that can lead to deadly car accidents,” says Nataliya Dementovych, MD, medical director of Geriatrics Services at Jefferson Lansdale Hospital.

Impairments can be cognitive, sensory or physical and can stem from chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, diabetes, seizure disorders, stroke, sleep disorders, depression and more. For instance, someone with uncontrolled diabetes could pass out from low blood sugar or get confused from high blood sugar while driving. Or, someone with Parkinson’s may have tremors or a slow physical response that makes it difficult to drive safely.

If you have older loved ones, it’s important to monitor their driving skills closely to identify when it may be time to take away the car keys. Signs that someone may need to stop driving include:

  • Driving too slow or too fast
  • Unexplainable fender benders or scratches on the car
  • Getting lost, especially when driving someplace familiar
  • Delayed responses while driving
  • Difficulty changing lanes
  • Making turns from an inappropriate lane
  • Worsening vision
  • An increase in car accidents

When noticing any of these signs, it’s a good idea to address your concerns with your loved one or their doctor. “It’s better to have these conversations early so people can mentally and emotionally prepare to stop driving,” says Dr. Dementovych. “Someone with one or two red flags may be able to continue driving for a period of time, but should be aware that it may be safer for them to stop driving in the near future.”

Thankfully, there are many resources available for older people who can no longer drive themselves. “Consider what’s best for your loved ones when helping them plan transportation. Are they mobile enough to take the bus on their own or would they be better off with the support of a home health aide?” asks Dr. Dementovych. Alternative transportation options include:

  • Public transportation like buses and trains
  • A home health aide
  • A family member, neighbor or volunteer
  • Ridesharing services
  • Churches or community groups
  • Township-sponsored transportation services

Driving can be dangerous even under the best conditions, so it’s important to talk to your older loved ones about safe driving and the possibility of not being able to drive someday. If you’re concerned with their driving, or if they’re continuing to drive against professional recommendation, reach out to their healthcare provider for support and to determine next steps.

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