Signs of Unsafe Driving in Someone With Dementia

The question of when to give up the keys is an emotional minefield, but being aware of the dangers at the earliest stages of dementia might help you intervene early enough to spare the person a ticket, a fender bender, or, worse, a tragedy. Watch for these signs.

Behind the wheel:

  • Not following the speed limit (going too fast or, more often, too slowly)

  • Drifting into other lanes

  • Seeming flustered by distractions (such as the radio or conversation in the car)

  • Neglecting to signal

  • Turning from an improper lane

  • Confusing the brake and accelerator

  • Showing a slowed reaction time (to obstacles, changing lights)

  • Having difficulty following directions (from a companion in the car or a GPS system)

  • Tailgating

  • Getting lost, especially on familiar routes

  • Seeming tense or preoccupied while driving

  • Signs of irritation from other drivers, such as honking

  • Neglecting to fasten seat belt

Off road:

  • Auto insurance rates have increased recently

  • Recent tickets or warnings

  • Recent nicks, scrapes, or dents on the car body

  • Reluctance to drive at night

  • Exhaustion after driving

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio

almost 5 years, said...

I noticed that I do get off the the lanes every now and then,and when I do its because I am driving faster than I probably should.I just refuce my speed,and I am okay for the rest of the trip.

about 5 years, said...

Getting older... my sons want to keep me off the road. Seeing these specific points shows me what I need to know/do to convince my family that I AM driving safely. Just because I may miss a turn or forget the quickest way to the store does not mean I am driving dangerously, only that I may need to incorporate assistive technologies such as GPS to get to familiar places since I don't visit as often as when I was younger.

about 5 years, said...

Hello CLR, does have online support groups available. Through the various groups you will receive caregiving tips, advice, and support. You will also connect with those who understand what you're going through. Share, vent, laugh, and feel less alone. We're here for you. To visit the online support groups click here: www.

about 5 years, said...

It makes me aware of what to watch for. I need to find a support group as I am struggling with how to respond to behavior that is foreign to my husband. I never dreamed of being in this situation. Fortunately we have a loving, caring family. I know God is here for me and that helps so very much! Bless you for this help you are giving me!

about 5 years, said...

To see, surprisingly, how many points I would have to check. I must take another AARP course, and be very aware at all times... and not drive if I don't have to.

over 5 years, said...

Many of these items are 'intentional'- you don't like the MUSIC your pax. is playing!!!- (not) following GPS instructions when THE VOICE will take you , . the most circuitous route.. You have to know the INTENTION of the driver before you can classify all of these as UNSAFE driving practices.

over 5 years, said...

It helped me to evaluate the safety of my husband's driving habits, and he's doing okay.

over 5 years, said...

I am 79 and I want to know as much as possible about what may happen to me or my wife. I don't want to be entirely surprised. This helped.

over 5 years, said...

I am 68 and was checking for reasons to quit driving. So far, I'm ok except I don't like to drive at night, especially when it is raining. Love your articles. Nana

over 5 years, said...

It includes all of the things I still do NOT do ..... great! I am still a good driver with NO traffic tickets, etc.

over 5 years, said...

Good luck in trying to get a Dr. help you stop a driver that no longer is capable. HOWEVER, there are forms you can get online from the DMV (or DMB) to fill out and send in to ask for a driver review. They contact the driver and they don't tell them who sent in the form. The only problem is you don't know what happens after you send in the form. I sent one in on my step-father and we have no idea if they have contacted him yet or not. He doesn't seem to be driving anymore so I wonder if he thinks just not driving means he can keep his license (which is SO important to him) and still get away without having a driving review. I guess they'll need to come and knock on the door to talk to him so we'll know things are processing correctly. His eye doctor would not listen to us when we told him we know he cannot see things well peripherally or below his front sight level. (My SF *can* memorize things, however, and we think he has the eye chart memorized.) The Dr. just blew us off like we were trying to be mean to my step-father. For cryin' out loud! We live with this guy every day and we know that since his strokes he can't see well enough to drive anymore. Plus he gets lost and won't let people merge on the thruway and crosses over three lanes to make a quick exit and lots of other horrid things. Not to mention that now he sits in the back seat a lot, he won't buckle up his seat belt because it is not a law in our state. He has a son-in-law who is a quadrapeligic so you think he'd have some sympathy about making someone else into one but, noooooo, he just storms out of the car and goes in the house to pout. He missed my mother's CANCER SURGERY because we asked him to put on a seat belt. He went in the house and took the phone off the hook for 24 hours so no one -- not even my mother after her surgery who was trying to call with GOOD NEWS -- could get hold of him.. He hasn't been diagnosed but I'd say he's well into dementia and my mother has NASH dementia. SHE'S doing all the driving but her time is coming to an end, too. The other day she forgot how to work her washer and dryer. I hope she's parked in the driveway the day she forgets where the brake pedal is. Whew. Thanks for helping me unload. I'm stressed. Can you tell?? :)

almost 6 years, said...

I can't tell you how helpful you are to me. I have felt so alone with this new situation. My husband has a lot of forgetfullness and we are evaluating his situation. They did a brain scan this week which was good , just showed aging. He went on a medication for memory and will have a neurological test in November. He realizes he is forgetting and I am learning to be patient and not quiz him, which helps my sanity. He had a quadruple by-pass in January and I thought the memory situation was a temporary thing. However, there was some of that issue before surgery. Thank you for your wonderful, caring help!

almost 6 years, said...

Very Helpful ! I find as I get older I need to concentrate/focus more intensely plus defensive driving has become more of a challenge.

over 6 years, said...

I'm seeing a few of these signs in my 74 year old mother. She's not willing to stop driving, and I'm trying to figure out if it's really time to make this an issue to argue about.

almost 7 years, said...

We are facing my 85-year old F-I-L's license renewal in a few months. He's terrified that he won't have the license renewed, going so far as to say it is "life and death" for him that he be able to drive. This was just in the nick of time because I'm wondering how I'm going to deal with this - the article helps me know what to look for with him. Thanks!

almost 7 years, said...

Ineteresting summary.