Confronting an Aging and Unsafe Driver

Driving is a symbol of independence in our culture,  and those who drive want to be able to do so as long as they can.  However, as our loved ones get older there may come a time when they need to stop driving, especially if they have Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia. So how do you know when it is time for them to stop and how do you tell them?

First it is important to know the signs of unsafe driving. Some of these signs include: driving at inappropriate speeds (either fast or slow), trouble staying in a lane, difficulty seeing the side of the road, problems making turns, getting lost frequently, having a slower response rate, stopping for no reason, getting frequent tickets, and being easily distracted while driving.

Once you know there is a problem with a loved one, you need to decide the best way to address it. The following are some steps you can take to try to break the news as painlessly as possible:

    • Decide the best person to do the talking. People can take things differently depending on who is delivering the message. Popular choices include spouse, doctor, and adult children. Other options include other family members, a close friend, a family attorney, or caregivers. You need to determine what would work best in your situation.
    • Plan what to say. This is a sensitive topic, and you need to approach it carefully. The key is to avoid being critical and to try to be positive. 
    • Go to a geriatric care manager. Have a geriatric care manager prepare a report evaluating the social, emotional, environmental, and health needs of the client and family, including the need to stop driving. This can bring the matter out in the open.
    • Get an independent driving evaluation. Contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Many DMV offices will conduct field tests to assess driving capability. You can also contact the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists, which can refer you to a rehabilitation specialist in your state. The rehabilitation specialist will make an evaluation and provide a recommendation.
    • Report the driver to the DMV. Your state Department of Motor Vehicles, Highway Safety, or Transportation may have an office where a family member or doctor can make a referral about an unsafe driver. The state office will investigate the claim, and the driver may have to take a road test or have his or her license suspended.
    • Help the unsafe driver find alternate transportation. Without a car, your loved one will need a way to get around. The Eldercare Locator can help identify local transportation resources.

If the driver has Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia, these steps may not be enough. The lack of a driver's license may not deter an individual with dementia. To stop this driver, you may need to hide keys or disable the car. To prevent the driver from calling a mechanic to get the car started, you may need to place a sign under the car's hood to call the caregiver before fixing the car. For more on Alzheimer's disease and driving, click here.

For a checklist on "When to Put the Brakes on Elderly Drivers," click here.

For more information on aging drivers and the law, click here.