Driving Assessment for Seniors: 8 Ways to Assess Your Parent's Driving

It isn't always immediately obvious when an elderly person begins to have trouble driving. Your parent may not notice that her driving skills are deteriorating or may not want to acknowledge it -- and you may not care to either. Of course you want your parent to maintain her independence as long as possible, but don't wait for an accident to happen before you intervene. Here's what you can do:

  1. Take several drives with your parent at the wheel, and observe her driving with an open mind.
    Is she tense? Does she lean forward in her seat and appear worried or preoccupied? Does she often express irritation at other drivers? Does she seem particularly tired after driving? If so, she's probably beginning to have some anxiety about driving.

  2. Notice whether your parent is reluctant to drive.
    She may, for example, decline invitations to social events that require her to drive, particularly at night. This may be her way of acknowledging that she's aware of her own limitations and is taking steps to avoid an accident.

  3. Watch for slowed reaction time.
    Does she consistently wait too long to respond to traffic lights or other driving cues?

  4. Notice her awareness of her driving environment.
    Does she tailgate, for example? Does she stay in her own lane or let the car drift very close to the centerline? Does she complain of getting lost more than she used to?

  5. When she's not with you, walk around her car and look for signs of damage.
    Everyone's car gets nicked now and then by someone else's door in a parking lot, but does her car have the kind of scratches or dents that could indicate driving mishaps? If so, ask her about them.

  6. If you've observed some questionable driving on your mother's part, ask her whether she's gotten any tickets for speeding or other violations.
    Naturally, it's best to do this in a neutral, nonaccusatory way at a time when she's not behind the wheel.

  7. If you're not comfortable asking about tickets, ask whether her car insurance rate has gone up.
    If your parent's rate has increased, this may be a sign that she's had driving infractions.

  8. Check in with trusted friends and neighbors about her driving.
    Don't wait for your parent's friends or neighbors to call you if you're worried about your parent's driving. They may feel uncomfortable approaching you with any concerns but may talk with you if you contact them directly. If you live far from your parents, try to identify one or two such people who would be willing to keep you informed about your parent's driving and other safety matters. Contact them regularly, and make sure they have your contact information as well, so they can reach you if anything comes up.

Connie Matthiessen

Constance (Connie) Matthiessen, senior editor, has worked as a healthcare and environmental journalist at the Center for Investigative Reporting and has written for WebMD, Consumer Health Interactive, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, BabyCenter. See full bio

over 2 years, said...

Not sure why this article is focused on females - guys have the same or more issues because most of us can be very stubborn - at almost any age.

over 2 years, said...

I am 55 years old and it was my own 79 year old mother that suggested that I enter an independent senior living community in my home town-Omaha, NE. She was concerned about my driving, my failing memory, and my increasingly frequent falls lately. After exhaustive tests, no causes were found for any of the above. In my family, we always listen to moms advice. So, that means that I'm stuck in a senior community center before my 79 year old, super healthy and super vital mother. How embarrassing. She's a marathon runner, a parachute jumper, a mountain climber, a bungee jumper, and a triathlon enter-er and more. And she travels the U.S., visiting friend's and relative's, in a 5th wheel with her rich, handsome, christian, 80 year old boyfriend, who likes to do the same things she does. Yes, mom's always known how to do things right.

almost 3 years, said...

Interesting article. As a 87 yr. old senior, I am aware that there are extra needs to be aware of your envirionment, and stay alert, and drive according to your health limitations. On the other hand, children can be very cruel when they allow there own insecurities about their parents driving, result in depriving an elderly loved one from an activity in which he/she is perfectly capable of doing, and who has good faculties for continued driving. Be careful that your own insecurities are not the reason for doing a cruelty to a loved one.

over 3 years, said...

If someone gets a few traffic tickets it means they belong in assisted living? Lock up 98% of the nation then. That is preposterous.

over 4 years, said...

I no longer drive.D oes that automatically put me in assisted Living?

over 4 years, said...

My husband drives way below the speed limit on a busy highway and I did not feel safe. Now he is mad at me for telling him.

almost 5 years, said...

It helped me evaluate my own driving. I have trouble with macral degeneration and am constantly aware of my vision. I try not to get overly tired so I do not like to drive for long periods of time. I once drove from Fort Worth to Chicago in one shot, but I was young at the time. 'Be aware' is my mantra.

about 5 years, said...

Great and confirms whether I should continue driving

about 5 years, said...

Sounds like Agism going on here. So what if an elder leans forward in the seat; don't you ever do that or haven't you ever driven in a blizzard or driving rain/fog? Of course reaction times decrease with age but you are suggesting an adult child be the judge of how much that has happened in an elder parent and act unilaterally to "take away the keys". What if an elder parent rode with middle aged child and started harping on them about how much they talked on cell phone and suggested they should not drive any longer? Adult children of elder parents can play far more important roles in helping their parents such as helping them (not scolding them) in watching for scams against them from external forces as well as relatives. Start talking to your parents in a way to gain their trust in you, not in a way that creates resentment (treated like a child), and do so consistently and frequently. That's a problem. I learned that with my mother when she was 85, changed my ways, stopped trying to manage her, and had the best relationship ever with her until she died at 99.

about 6 years, said...

This article was very helpful to me. My father drives every day to his usual stops, often to new places. He volunteers for a charitable organization who help people in need. I've been concerned about his driving for quite some time. He has only one "good" eye and ear. On top of that, he has coordination issues due to a past surgery. He's not encountered any accidents, yet, but I've been in the car with him and he occasionally drifts and drives with less and less confidance. What is it going to take to get him to stop driving. I had a conversation with him about 6 years ago...

about 6 years, said...

All of the above!

over 6 years, said...

This article was useful to me. My father has been diagnosed with Parkinson's and his driving is getting worse. He speeds when he first takes off and brakes to hard to stop. Also, he has gotten lost recently. thank you and hope to see more articles on this.