By Martin Glass, Esq.

We’ve all been behind someone on the road, wondering if the driver can even see over the steering wheel.  But just because someone has gotten older (and shorter) does not necessarily mean that he or she no longer has the ability to drive.  However, at some point, that time may come.  It often comes when you begin to realize that your own aging mother or father is no longer safe to be behind the steering wheel.

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA) website (seniordriving.aaa.com), with the exception of drivers under 25, seniors are at a higher risk of having a serious collision per mile driven than any other age group.  This is despite the fact that seniors drive fewer miles than their younger counterparts.

But how do you know that it’s time to have that talk?  Many seniors feel that if you take their car you might as well send them “out to pasture.”  We all know that it’s extremely difficult to get around Long Island without a car, especially if you’ve been doing it for 60, 70, or even 80 years.

But believe it or not, many seniors recognize that they’re getting older and have developed some physical limitations.  Your parents may already be driving less after dark, during rush hour, in inclement weather, or have even started to avoid highways and tricky intersections altogether.

If you’re not sure about their driving ability, one thing you may want to do is to take a ride as a passenger with your mom or dad driving to assess their abilities.  Another is to look to see if they’ve had tickets or citations in the past year or two.  Collisions or near-misses are big red flags.  Rear-end collisions, fender-benders (especially in parking lots) and side-swiping another car can be signs that their driving skills are diminishing.

How do you even start that kind of conversation?  If you determine that it is no longer safe for your aging parent (or anyone else that you care about) to drive, you need to have a conversation with them.  Even though it can be a very difficult conversation, the trick is not to make it a combative one.

AAA recommends the following:

  • Communicate openly and respectfully.  Nobody wants to be called a dangerous driver, so avoid making generalizations about older drivers or jumping to conclusions about their skills or abilities behind the wheel.  Be positive, be supportive and focus on ways to help keep them safely on the go.
  • Avoid an intervention.  Keep the discussion between you and the older driver you want to assist.  Inviting the whole family to the conversation will alienate and possibly anger the person you’re trying to help.
  • Make privacy a priority.  Always ask for permission to speak with an older driver’s physician, friends or neighbors about the driver’s behavior behind the wheel.
  • Never make assumptions.  Focus on the facts available to you, such as a medical condition or medication regimen that might make driving unsafe.  Do not accuse an older driver of being unsafe or assume that driving should be stopped altogether.  Focus the conversation on safe driving and working together.

Change is usually difficult, and on Long Island, this change can be a powder keg.  So, if it’s at all possible, work together with your parent to create a safe driving plan before any problems actually occur.  This could allow the transition from driver to passenger to be more gradual.

As noted, the senior often starts with self‑imposed restrictions on when or where they drive themselves.  Next, they may want to begin increasing their comfort level with using other forms of transportation (buses, taxis, or other means of transportation provided by town or county) before they need to exclusively depend upon them.  At some point, you and they may even decide that it is time to bring in some assistance into the senior’s home, such as some companion care, or change the older driver’s living situation entirely.  The point is that this type of conversation is not a one-shot deal.  It needs to be ongoing.

To discuss the legal needs of a senior you care about, please contact us.

Email Marty