How can I be sure my mother, who lives on the other side of the country, is driving safely?

1 answer | Last updated: Apr 24, 2014
A fellow caregiver asked...

My widowed mother is in relatively good health, still living on her own and driving at 81 years old. I live on the other side of the country, as does my brother, and we visit infrequently. I've become increasingly worried because I have no way of evaluating whether she should be driving. A few weeks ago she told me she had to have her car repaired after a minor accident, but she claimed it was the other driver's fault. Still, I don't want to figure out after the fact that she has become a danger to herself and others. What can I do?

Expert Answers

Elizabeth Dugan, a Fellow of the Gerontology Institute, University of Massachusetts Boston, is the author of Driving Dilemma: The Complete Resource Guide for Older Drivers and Their Families.

I know how stressful it can be to worry about a loved one who doesn't live close enough to visit as often as you'd like. Hopefully you have a family tradition of open, honest, and frequent communication. I'd recommend asking your mom how her driving is going. Has she encountered any recent problems?

Just getting the topic on the table is a good start. She was involved in a recent crash, and that's a big warning sign. Find out more about the circumstances of the accident to see if it suggests any problems with vision, thinking, or moving—the three key functions needed to drive safely. For example, did it involve her making a left turn? That might indicate problems with depth perception and judging the speed of oncoming traffic.

The next time you visit your mother, be sure to walk around the car to see if there are accumulating dents, scratches, and dings. Go for a ride when your mother drives to get a sense of how she's doing. We can all benefit from a refresher driving course. See if she's willing to take a driving class for seniors. This will earn her a discount on her auto insurance and provide tips on how to drive well despite slower reaction times. For more ideas, see Resources for Tuning Up Driving Skills.

Another great idea is to get a driving assessment from a certified driving rehabilitation specialist. These specialists assess the driving skills of older drivers and offer training to improve them when possible.