When to Stop Driving

How to Know When It's Time to Stop Driving

By , Caring.com senior editor
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If your aging parent or other family member is like most people, the decision to stop driving is likely to be a wrenching one. It raises daunting practical problems (How am I going to get to the doctor? What about my weekly outings for dinner and a movie?). It also represents another loss at a time of life already buffeted by major losses -- of independence, health, and lifelong friends and loved ones.

For practical and emotional reasons, then, giving up driving is a transition that everyone involved wishes to put off as long as possible. It's no wonder that many adult children and spouses say that taking away the car keys was among the hardest things they ever had to do.

Still, if you have concerns about a family member's driving ability, it's vital not to ignore them. Many seniors are able to drive safely well into their 80s and even early 90s, but it's also common for elderly people to have vision and hearing problems, slowed reaction times, and illnesses that can jeopardize their ability to drive safely.

According to a report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the rate of accidents per mile of driving increases steadily for drivers 65 and older. More worrisome still, drivers 80 and older have higher crash death rates than any other group except teenage drivers, according to the Centers for Disease Control. (One reason: Older drivers are physically more frail than other drivers and thus more likely to die in a crash.)

But it's important not to urge a family member to stop driving until you're convinced he's dangerous behind the wheel. Experts agree that age alone is not a predictor for poor driving skills. And older drivers actually cause fewer motorist and pedestrian deaths than drivers of any other age group, according to John Eberhard, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Older Driver Research Program. Eberhard also gives seniors high marks for driving safety: They're more likely than other drivers to wear seat belts, for example, and less likely to drink and drive. In addition, seniors drive much less than younger drivers, so the total number of accidents is lower.

How can you tell when the time has come for someone to stop driving? We've developed guidelines that will help you avoid being an alarmist yet also realize when the time has arrived that driving is no longer a safe activity for the person in your care.