Dangerous Senior Drivers

What to Do About a Dangerous Older Driver
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What should you do if you've monitored your parent's or other aging family members' driving and are persuaded that they pose a risk -- but they refuse to stop driving? Many older adults elect to stop driving proactively if they suspect they're developing driving problems or someone mentions the issue. Others stubbornly insist that their driving is as good as it ever was and tune out anyone who tells them differently. If you have a family member who refuses to acknowledge the problem, try these strategies:

Talk to Family Friends

If you've had no luck persuading your parent or other family members to give up the car, see if family friends can help. Research shows that older drivers are more likely to listen to those outside the family when it comes to their driving. Be discreet, and consider their feelings. Talk to only their closest friends: people they trust and whom you know have their best wishes at heart. Find out if these friends share your concerns. If they do, they may be willing to talk to your parent or other family members themselves.

Talk to Your Loved One's Doctor

Let your parent's (or other family members') primary care physician know that you think he should stop driving but refuses to do so. Under privacy laws, a physician must have a patient's permission to share personal health information, so unless you have medical power of attorney, the physician won't be able to discuss his health status with you. But you can still write or telephone the physician and inform her that you believe your parent should stop driving and why. The physicians can examine him with this information in mind, and if she agrees with your assessment, may be willing to advise your parent to stop driving. (A number of states now require physicians to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles if a patient is diagnosed with Alzheimer's or another health condition that could affect driving safety.) If a family member's vision is compromised, you can also contact his eye doctor.

File a Report With the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

If it doesn't work to talk to family friends or physicians, or if these steps don't yield results, you can file an unsafe driver report with your state's Department of Motor Vehicles. (Police officers and physicians can also file unsafe driver reports.) Contact your state's DMV to find out the exact procedure, as rules vary from state to state. DMVs generally take such reports seriously, although many are too understaffed to respond quickly. Your letter should include your reasons for making the complaint, as well as information about how authorities can contact your parent or other family members. Be as specific as you can when outlining your reasons for believing that someone poses a driving risk.

After receiving a complaint, the state agency will contact the person and request a medical evaluation. The agency might also require a driving test. Depending on the findings of these evaluations, they could either restrict his license (some elderly people cannot drive on the highway or at night, for example) or revoke the license altogether.

Take More Serious Steps

If the person you're concerned about has a cognitive problem and can't understand the danger he poses to himself and others, you may have to take more extreme measures. Some adult children have resorted to having their parents' car disabled or found ways to make it disappear; others have hidden the car keys -- and have never found them. In The Driving Dilemma, Elizabeth Dugan cautions adult children to use such "extralegal steps" only in cases where there's a clear danger and the driver is incapable of understanding the risk.

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