10 Signs to Look For When Deciding When to Hang Up the Keys

One way we can demonstrate an accepting spirit to our neighbors (those with whom we live, work, and play) is by providing a safe, non-judgmental environment for discussing difficult topics. Today I want to discuss one such topic.

As we age, it’s normal for our driving abilities to change. Deciding when someone is no longer fit to drive is a challenging issue. Often, emotions overpower facts. Having a tough conversation like this is never easy, but we can be a visible reflection of Jesus when we approach each other with grace and respect and when we listen to others’ concerns with humility and gratitude. To begin, let’s focus on the facts:

Virtually all of us will have to stop driving eventually. Even if we have to reduce our driving or give up the keys entirely, it doesn’t mean the end of independence. Seeking alternative methods of transportation can offer health and social benefits, as well as a welcome change of pace. These positive outcomes of giving up driving may be a great way to frame the conversation.

Just as passing a road test does not ensure a safe driver, reaching a certain age does not automatically mean an unsafe driver. A study published in the journal Neurology reported that as many as 76% of people with mild dementia are still able to pass a road test and drive appropriately. Statistics show that 77% of older adults wear seat belts compared to only 63% of younger drivers. Older drivers tend to limit their driving during bad weather and at night, and drive fewer miles than younger drivers. And only 5% of older adults involved in fatal crashes had an illegal blood alcohol concentration, compared to 25% of 21-64 year olds.

However, older adults are more likely to receive traffic citations and have accidents than younger drivers. What accounts for the increase? As we age, decreased vision, impaired hearing, or slowed reflexes may become a problem. A chronic condition like arthritis, or a sudden change in health like a stroke may impact strength, coordination, and flexibility, which affect one’s ability to safely control a car. To continue driving safely, we need to recognize that changes will happen, get help when they do, and be willing to listen if others voice concerns.

senior woman driving car

Here are 10 signs that it’s time to have a serious conversation with a driver, regardless of age, and his/her doctor. (I realize half of these are true for my teenaged children!)

1. Stops in traffic for no reason or ignores traffic signs.

2. Fails to signal or signals inappropriately.

3. Drifts into other lanes or drives on the wrong side of the street.

4. Becomes lost on a familiar route.

5. Parks inappropriately.

6. Has difficulty seeing pedestrians or other vehicles.

7. Has difficulty making turns or changing lanes.

8. Gets drowsy or falls asleep while driving.

9. Lacks good judgment.

10. Has repeated minor accidents or “near misses.”

[Some of the preceding content has been adapted from Wheatridge’s Health Notes by Marla Lichtsinn, Parish Nurse, May 2014.]

Remember our motivation, which bears repeating: we can be a visible reflection of Jesus and exhibit an accepting spirit toward our neighbors when we approach each other with grace and respect, and when we listen to others’ concerns with humility and gratitude. Let me know if you’d like more information about the decision to stop driving, or information on products to help keep older drivers safe and extend their driving years.

And before you get behind the wheel and head off to your next destination today, would you share your answer to this question: when you’ve had a conversation with a loved one about their driving habits or another challenging topic, how did it go for you?

About the author