Look to experts for advice if you happen to be the midlife child responsible for relinquishing a parent’s driving privileges. In many cases knowing one can drive is worth more than actually driving. I learned the magnitude of this senior driving theory firsthand as this was the case with my father.
Signs of Driving Deterioration
I noticed Dad’s outings becoming less and less. After living with us for about seven months, I noticed his trips to the store were reduced to maybe once every three weeks. He began to encourage me to drive his car rather than my own. Admittedly, I was rather relieved that his driving was less. I had ridden with him many times. He hugged the white line, drove with two feet, and didn’t notice traffic signs until he was upon them. I felt his vision and motor skills were not sufficient for safe driving not to mention his memory and hearing deterioration. In fact, with every trip he took, my face aged just a little bit more. This emotional stress was very similar to the time when my boys first began driving. Then Dad started telling the driving stories during dinner, such as how other drivers beeped at him often. The tone was as if they were crazy drivers and he in the right. On one occasion, he backed into a car in a parking lot and luckily was waved on by another driver, as no damage was visible. Backing out of the driveway, he hit the neighbor’s mailbox and never told us until weeks after the incident.
Preparing For Difficult Decisions
Shortly thereafter, he experienced an extreme bout of vertigo, which scared him terribly. It was then he decided driving was unsafe and wanted my son, who was moving away, to have his car rather than buy a used one he knew nothing about. Of course I did not allow this to be disclosed to my son for at least a month for fear that Dad would soon change his mind. I repeatedly asked him if he was certain about the decision. Therefore, my son got a car from his Pop for a birthday/Christmas gift. One month later, my father mentioned using my car. He explained that he KNEW how to drive and DROVE safely. He claimed to be lost without his car. In an effort to ease his loss, I offered almost daily for him to go out with me. He declined for the most part. I then avoided discussing the subject for a while, as I frantically researched senior driving safety. It was the point of knowing he could drive at will not actually going that was the issue.
AARP has a whole seminar and study on the subject of senior driving safety that includes videos, conversation Q & As and suggestions for making this difficult task easier. The Hartford website offered an extensive list on the signs of unsafe senior driving. Of 28 questions, I personally witnessed 20 positive responses concerning my father’s driving skills.
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The following is a list from AARP of the most common warning signs that indicate a senior’s driving should be limited or relinquished.
The Experts Top Ten – Dad Stop Driving – Warning Signs
1. Almost crashing, with frequent “close calls”
2. Finding dents and scrapes on the car, on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs, or the like
3. Getting lost
4. Having trouble seeing or following traffic signals, road signs, and pavement markings
5. Responding more slowly to unexpected situations, or having trouble moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal; confusing the two pedals
6. Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps
7. Experiencing road rage or having other drivers frequently honk at you
8. Easily becoming distracted or having difficulty concentrating while driving
9. Having a hard time turning around to check over your shoulder while backing up or changing lanes
10. Receiving traffic tickets or “warnings” from traffic or law enforcement officers in the last year or two
The experts advise to discuss your concerns about driving with medical professionals that your parents trust. It may be less difficult on your relationship to hear the news from a professional and an outsider. When the driving subject arose again, I was prepared and the action I took was a bit different.
The Final Challange
I agree to allow him to drive to the store two blocks away. I was very worried and let him know that when he returned. Not only did he return from the opposite direction but he also made the turn onto our street and into the driveway by taking up the entire pavement to make each turn. The road is wide enough for two cars as is the driveway. My car is a compact car and he drove it as if it were a tractor-trailer. Witnessing this along with his blatant disregard for my worry confirmed what I already knew; he should not be driving for his and others safety.
I continued to invite him out and he accepted only once or twice. My father became insistent for an answer on driving my car. It was then I told him it was very unsafe for him to drive. I was honest, told him about the warning signs, and gave examples of his actions for each item. I continually expressed concern for his safety throughout the conversation as well as including my brother and sister’s opinions on the subject. He admitted to not seeing in oneself what others see. Dad was agreeable. I thought the decision not to drive was accepted and done.
A month later same situation occured. I can drive he said. This is coming from a man who has trouble hearing me when I stand next to him and speak loudly, who literally takes five minutes to walk 40 feet, and who has trouble remembering what day it is on seconds after you have just told him the day. This time I got angry and in a stronger tone went through his lack of response time, vision shortcomings, mobility concerns, and hearing concerns. He said he understood. One sentence later he says he feels lost without his car in a fell sorry for me way even though he constantly declined offers to go out. I also pointed that to him. He laughed and again agreed. He doesn’t ever consider how I might feel about his comments.
After two more months, he said it again. This time I told him yes, you can drive my car with these conditions; be added to the insurance and pay for the premium increase, and not smoke while driving my car. That is a distraction, you are careless, and I can barely pay for the car as it is now. I certainly don’t want it to have burn holes as your car did. He declined my offer, said he would rather leave things as they are and has not said one single word about it since that day.
He started to imply that he couldn’t go anywhere and I quickly pointed out looking straight into his eyes, “You can.” His reply was, “It’s up to me to choose, right.” Exactly Dad. Seems I convinced my father to seek out some entertainment. Today we went to a luncheon and oldies radio show at the local senior center. Dad and I had a wonderful time. I drove, no questions asked!
Tips to Ease the Transition
Below are a series of tips I collected and followed to help Dad transition into not driving. Experience taught me that each person is different and their personality will dictate to what extent these tips will help. This is what the experts don’t tell you. My father is a stubborn and somewhat self-centered person and I on the other hand am patient yet forceful when necessary. While you may feel guilty or sad about the situation, be prepared to stand firm yet loving with your decisions.
Create spontaneous moments by suggesting and agreeing to spontaneous trips. Discuss transportation alternatives that allow the person to have some control over scheduling, such as using taxicabs or paying a neighbor to be a driver. Help the person learn how to arrange activities in advance. Having prior arrangements is easier for those providing transportation, and increases the chances of having transportation needs met.
Acknowledge feelings and show genuine concern about what driving, and its loss, means to your relative. These conversations let the person know you understand, remind the person that driving may represent more than just a way to get places, and open conversations that can later ease the transition to not driving.
One final note, a surefire, cut and dry type solution the experts suggest is to have their drivers license revoked by government officials. This is something I would never do because I believe the mental impact on the senior would be dreadful; possibly even more deadly than driving!
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