Part 2: Making the Decision Not to Drive
In Part I, we mentioned some of the situations that cause a caregiver to doubt whether a family member is still a competent driver. Accidents or near misses, recklessness when driving, being forgetful about one’s destination or route when driving are all things which may bring a caregiver to question that driver’s competence to continue driving. On the other hand, when driving is important to that person’s independence and social involvement, or when there seems to be no alternative transportation, then the question about if and when to stop allowing Grandpa to drive seems to be selfish, or even unimportant.
What exactly should a family member or caregiver consider to enable them to determine if and when an elderly or sick person may not be able to continue driving safely?
First, look at the driving laws of your state. Some states require older drivers to pass a vision test or even to take an in-car driving test to renew their driving licenses. People with certain temporary or permanently disabling conditions are not permitted to drive by law. These are safeguards that the law has put in place with the advice of medical and driving experts to protect the public on the roads and to keep persons who really are not minimally able to drive off the roads.
Assuming that the driver can pass a driver’s license renewal, one should consider lessening the hazards a driver can face. Naturally, one should think of some ways to avoid driving under unfavorable conditions. Is the driver avoiding high traffic areas where accidents often occur to all kinds of drivers? Perhaps you can help him plan a route and time where there is less traffic on the roads. Should the driver avoid driving in bad weather conditions? Perhaps, appointments could be rescheduled on bad weather days, or someone else could drive at that time. Is the vehicle itself roadworthy? Or, is it likely to break down, and does it lack proper mirrors, seat belts, air bags etc.?
Next, consider the advice of the person’s physician about their capability for driving. Can the person see and hear adequately for driving? Getting a vision test and a hearing test can answer the first question. Vision and hearing minimum standards are usually set by the state’s driving laws.
Does the driver have a medical condition which affects his driving? Is the driver taking medications which could make them sleepy, dizzy, or confused? There are usually warnings on the labels of such medications about operating machinery, including cars. Has the driver developed a condition such as narcolepsy, seizures, or disorientation which would affect their performance as a driver? Are they slow in reacting to what’s in the roadway, frustrated and lost even in familiar areas, or simply can’t decide how to handle a driving situation at a crucial moment? Those are indications of difficulty in driving which may have a health-related cause.
Is the driver able to reach the pedals, turn their heads, and handle the steering wheel in their physical condition? This would be a question for the physician, who may refer the patient to a driver rehabilitation specialist who could give the patient a comprehensive evaluation to determine if the patient can capably drive and what, if any, modifications to the vehicle may be needed for the patient to drive safely. Many driver rehabilitation specialists work at large rehabilitation centers for the physically disabled where they work with re-training amputees to drive while using prosthetic limbs or using modified vehicles. A driver rehabilitation specialist can evaluate a patient’s physical and mental capabilities to drive safely and make suggestions about modifications to the vehicle which may enhance driving abilities. Often, occupational therapists carry certification as a driver rehabilitation specialist. To find a driver rehabilitation specialist in your area, visit the website of The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists, www.aded.net and put in your zip code.
With the information gained from the driver’s doctor, a driver rehabilitation specialist, and knowledge of the state law’s requirements, the caregiver and driver have to determine what to do next.
Will Grandpa be able to continue driving at this time? Or, is it time to plan for some alternative transportation?
Sometimes, it is really a relief for the elderly or sick driver to have another alternative to driving himself. It is much more relaxing and comfortable to let another person do the driving to the doctor’s office, to the store, or to church, rather than face the tension and frustration of driving. As a caregiver, let the person know that driving them is not a burden, but an enjoyable time to visit together. It is a relief to you as a caregiver to know that they are safe.
Other drivers see losing their driving privilege as a great loss of independence and even self-identity. They will argue and resist this loss. They may say that you are limiting them and interfering with them. They do not want to face these changes.
As a caregiver, it is difficult to know what to do in this situation. That’s why you have been careful to gather factual, objective, thorough information about their abilities and the demands of driving. Assure the driver that you are trying to protect him from harm, that you only want him to be safe. Assure him that you are willing to drive him wherever they want to go, or to find a way for them to ride with someone else when they want to go somewhere. Keep presenting the facts you have gathered in a non-blaming, understanding way. Ask him to consider how he is going to be safe and keep others safe when driving. Gently ask him to face these changes so he can responsibly manage transportation needs. Eventually, they may agree to give up driving for their safety and that of others.
What are the alternatives to driving? It varies greatly with your location, and the passenger’s abilities and resources. Some senior services centers provide transportation to the center, and for grocery store trips, social outings, and shopping days. The advantage is that your family member would be accompanied by a group and would be transported safely there and back. Taxi and public bus service would probably be available throughout the day in metropolitan areas. Your Area Agency on Aging or a state department of health or aging and disability services may be able to help you locate personal transportation companies in your area who are qualified to transport the elderly, disabled or sick. Perhaps your church, neighbors or other family members would be willing to do the driving for the patient on a regular or occasional basis
Handling this situation can be a win-win for everyone involved. Just think, when one does not drive one does not have the expense of a car, car insurance, gas and maintenance. There are no parking hassles to face. You can use your time as a passenger relaxing and enjoying the sights, or visiting with other passengers. You can enjoy visiting with friends who drive, and they can get to know you on the way to wherever you want to go.
Where do you want to go today? Grandpa is not driving today, so could you drive him there?
Have a good trip.
Suggestion: See a good article in Guideposts Magazine, May 2013 issue titled “The Right Decision” by Carolyn Jones. She tells how about how she came to terms with giving up driving at age 80. Website: www.guideposts.org