Driving can give a person – no matter if they are a beginner, an experienced driver, or an elderly driver – the feeling of freedom and control. However, without the proper driving care, a mistake can have devastating consequences for more than just the driver.
Without the proper driving care, a mistake can have devastating consequences for more than just the driver.
Like every 16-year old in my high school, I marched into the nearest Ministry of Transportation office to take my written driving exam a few days after my birthday. Then began weeks of driving lessons both in the classroom and on the road – all to no avail since I allowed the G1 license to expire without ever taking the road test.
I was happy taking public transportation whenever I needed to get anywhere and there was always a family member or friend around I could cajole into giving me a ride.
This system worked well until my late 20s when I finally decided to start the process of getting my driver’s license all over again. This time, I was determined to finish what I had started.
Finally, getting my driver’s license was an eye-opening experience.
The rush of excitement I felt when I signed the dotted line while buying my first car, and driving it on the open road for the first time; this is a feeling that will stay with me for a long time. I finally understood the connection between driving and the feeling of freedom and independence, and why, for most people, driving is a necessity in life.
Elderly driving facts
- Did you know that seniors are the fastest growing segment of the driving population in Canada?
- By the year 2040, the number of older drivers in Canada will be almost double. When you consider that Canadian seniors now outnumber children for the first time ever, it’s hardly surprising.
Caregiver drivers are also on the increase. Caregivers spend a lot of time driving – taking the person in their care to appointments, running errands, going to work, picking up and dropping off kids at school (and sports), etc.
Seniors driving is a whole new ball game. For caregivers, it can either be a blessing or a source of constant worry if the elder person in your care is still independent and can drive themselves to their own appointments.
Senior drivers have decades of driving experience and, like a lot of us, probably enjoy driving as much as they rely on it in order to go about their day. But as we age into our senior years, we face challenges that can directly affect our driving ability.
According to the Canada Safety Council, slow response time, not seeing a sign (or a car, or pedestrian), and poor interaction with other drivers are the three main factors in collisions involving older drivers.
Elderly driving concerns
Caregivers should watch for elderly driving behaviours and warning signs that should cause concern, such as elders:
- Ignoring traffic rules, like stopping at a red light, yielding to pedestrians or traffic, or ignoring other traffic signs
- Stopping where they don’t need to stop, such as at intersections where they have the right of way
- Going well above or below the speed limit, or alternating between the two
- Swerving within the lane or straddling two lanes
- Making improper lane changes or weaving in and out of them
- Getting disoriented while driving, or lost in familiar places
- Confusing the brake pedal for the gas pedal, or vice versa
- Having difficulty working the pedals, or other car controls
- Getting honked at frequently by other drivers
- Getting overtaken by other drivers
- The elderly driver’s car shows signs of damage such as new scratches or dents
- Getting easily distracted by conversations in the car, or what’s happening in their surroundings
If you are a caregiver and notice that the elder person in your care is exhibiting any of these driving behaviours more frequently, perhaps it’s time to have a conversation with them about your concerns.
How to talk to elderly about driving
Talking to the elderly about driving can be a sensitive issue for the person in your care, so tread carefully and try not to sound judgmental. Here are a few points you can mention when you talk to the elderly person about their driving:
- Express your concerns about their driving behaviours that you’ve observed. Cite recent examples and explain that these behaviours concern you
- Suggest getting an objective opinion from someone who is qualified to assess the elderly driver’s ability behind the wheel (e.g. a driving instructor)
- Emphasize that driving is important, but their safety – and that of other passengers, motorists, and pedestrians – is more important
- Go through the risks of unsafe driving, including possible injury or death of the driver and others, damage to the vehicle, and increased insurance rates
- Suggest alternatives to elderly driving, such as getting a ride with you, with other family members or friends, or taking a cab, or even walking for exercise. The cost of taking a cab or using a driving service can be offset by the savings of not using, or repairing and insuring a vehicle
- Ask the elderly persons in your care to discuss their concerns about their driving ability with their family doctor
If you’re concerned about the elderly driving while in your care, Saint Elizabeth’s Driver Assessment and Training services may be helpful. Their trained professionals do in-clinic and on-road elderly driving assessments, and provide feedback and training if necessary.