It’s always a difficult transition when a parent becomes too old or too unwell to look after the themselves in the way that they have been used to, and a child has to intervene and step in to pursue a parent-like role ensuring they remain safe. Perhaps they have developed a form of dementia, or have significant heart concerns, there comes a time in most elderly people’s lives where they have to access whether it is safe for them to drive or whether that decision has to be made for them.
Age UK explains that some health issues can affect an older person’s reaction time, reflexes and other aspects of driving, such as:
• Medication: some medications can slow down reaction time or cause sleepiness.
• Eyesight or vision problems: poor eyesight can affect the ability to see clearly front-on or from the sides.
• Hearing loss: they may not be able to hear a car horn or siren.
• Mobility problems or pain: they may have difficulty or be slower pulling the handbrake, using the footbrake or moving their heads to check their side vision.
• Memory problems: they may get lost, confused or disorientated if they are in an unfamiliar area.
It can be difficult to approach the subject with a parent you are concerned, as driving gives people a freedom that is not the same if you have to rely on someone else to give you lifts everywhere. Stopping driving can be a sign that the parent is not coping as well as they thought they were and this trapped-like feeling can result in low moods and depression if they are unable to get out and interact with others. According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all and over half (51%) of all people aged 75 and over live alone.
The RAC Foundation says that there are 191 people over the age of 100 with a licence and among 4,018,900 people aged over 70 with full UK driving licences. There is currently no requirement for drivers over 70 need to retake their driving test, however, according to Arnold Clark drivers need to reapply for their licence at the age of 70 and every three years thereafter.
“There is no requirement to take a test but applicants must declare that they are fit and healthy to drive and their eyesight meets the minimum requirements for driving via self assessment. A medical examination is only required if those over 70 want to drive a medium-sized goods vehicle or minibus.”
So if the responsibility lies with the elderly person to be honest about there ability to continue to drive safely, should we ever intervene for fear of them getting in an accident and harming themselves or another person?
Age UK says that ultimately it’s the older person’s decision (or the DVLA’s) to stop driving. “But if you feel that their driving ability is affecting their safety, or they’re putting other people in danger, then you have a responsibility to talk to them about it.
“Encourage the person to think about whether they’re putting themselves and others at risk which might help them consider whether their driving is a concern. They might be grateful that you’ve broached the topic with them, and find comfort knowing that they have support to find a way forward.
“If the person agrees to stop driving, be conscious that it can be difficult for them to accept and adjust to life without a car. Find ways to help them through this transition as they may feel a sense of loss and have practical issues regarding getting around now they’re no longer driving.”
According to Market Watch, here are some common warning signs that it is time to talk to your parents about their ability to continue driving:
• If there is confusion between the gas and brake pedals or if there is difficulty in working them. If they lift their legs to move from the gas to the brakes instead of keeping a heel on the floor and pressing with their toes. This can be a sign of waning leg strength.
• If they appear to ignore or miss traffic signals especially stop signs.
• When the traffic stream is moving slowly, see if they tend to honk or pass other drivers. This can be an indication that they have a tough time keeping pace with fast-changing conditions.
• If you notice they are weaving or straddling lanes. Not signalling when changing lanes or checking mirrors and blind spots is especially dangerous.
• Any type of cognitive decline could lead to becoming disoriented and getting lost easily.
What happens if your parent is incredibly stubborn and refuses to stop driving even after your conversation with them?
Age UK says that “if you're seriously concerned about an older person's driving, you should write in confidence to the DVLA. They may then follow up with the local police. Think carefully about how this would affect your relationship with the person and whether there is another way for you to get them to think about giving up.”