Senior Driving: Don't Jerk the Wheel

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According to the AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety, 95% of senior drivers are taking a prescription medication which may impair their driving. That statistic is frightening by itself. It becomes absolutely terrifying when you consider that seniors are the fastest growing segment of drivers, with current projections suggesting that one out of every four drivers by 2025 will be at least 65 years old.

So what steps do we take individually, as families and as members of the community at large to address this issue? We know that age should not be the sole factor in evaluating someone's ability to drive but there certain realities of aging that must be acknowledged.

  • Seniors are NOT more likely to have accidents than other segments of drivers.

While the popular stereotype may be of the white haired granny running over trash cans and creeping along the interstate at a snail's pace, the actual crash rate of senior drivers is comparable to that of 20-30 yr olds. No one is suggesting taking them off the road!

  • Seniors ARE among the most fragile drivers on the road.

Seniors have a higher death rate per mile driven than any other group on the road due to the natural frailty of their bodies. If seniors present a danger on the roadways it is primarily to themselves and not to the community at large, statistically speaking.

As the father of a teenage son who is eager to get his hands on the wheel, I have recently begun the process of teaching him to drive. (Pray for me.) One of the things I am teaching him is that driving down the highway is a series of minor corrections to the left and right. Jerking the wheel in any direction is a recipe for disaster. The same is true in approaching conversations with your aging parents about driving. Many families with whom I interact approach the topic of senior driving with a single flawed question- How can I get my parent to give up driving? This is jerking the wheel.

A senior did not become one overnight and neither did their ability to operate heavy machinery disappear when the sun went down yesterday. Both things happen as part of a natural progression and must be dealt with according. Yet many families view senior driving through an unproductively myopic lens. Black or white. Either or. Yes or no.

Recently, my father in law confessed that he was having some difficulty with his vision. The conversation began with the simple question of my wife and I asking how comfortable he felt behind the wheel. Because we didn't begin by issuing ultimatums or making demands, he was able to open up about the places where he no longer feels confident and areas where he has begun to struggle. The conclusion he (we) came to was that he will avoid certain times and areas when driving.

More important than the conclusion we came to was the precedent we set for talks moving forward. We care and want to support you through your aging process. Any conversations built upon that relational foundation will be viewed as they rightly should be, as expressions of the love we have for our aging loved ones.


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