Driving at the limit

In my work with seniors and their families, I come across quite a few older folks who are still driving. And while many of these drivers are still competent behind the wheel, too many show warning signs of decreased ability.

The cars themselves are the first warning sign. Numerous scrapes and dents are good indicators of a problem with depth perception and reaction time. Scrapes on their own garages, mailboxes and fences confirm a problem exists.

But if you really want to gauge the ability of your loved one, take a drive with them. Some things to look for:

  • Drifting out of their own lane or straddling the lane dividers
  • Sudden braking or accelerating without cause
  • Using brake and accelerator simultaneously
  • Difficulty seeing pedestrians, obstructions and other vehicles
  • Failure to stop at stop signs or red lights.
  • Gets confused or lost in familiar surroundings
  • Fails to use turn signal or leaves signal on even when not turning
  • Drives significantly slower than the flow of traffic. This causes more accidents than speeding since cars approaching need to make drastic maneuvers to avoid the slower car, or slam on their own brakes causing chain collisions

Unfortunately we don’t have sufficient retesting in this country, so unless the older driver’s doctor tells them to stop driving, or the DMV yanks their license due to traffic violations, the family members are faced with the difficult task of taking away the keys. But waiting for a tragedy to happen is a worse option.


by Joan Garbow, MSW, LCSW, CCM
Advanced Member of The Aging Life Care Association