How can I know if it's safe for my elderly parents to drive?

Driving safety has more to do with health than it does with age. Important factors to consider include memory, reaction time, physical ability to see and look in mirrors and at blind spots, and well-controlled health issues. If you suspect your parents are no longer safe behind the wheel, it's important to have that discussion with them and voice your concerns. If you're uncomfortable doing this, seek assistance from your family doctor who will review the above factors and help you and your loved ones make a safe and logical decision.

Some signs that it might be time for your parents to stop driving are:
  • Almost crashing, with frequent close calls
  • Finding dents or scrapes on the car or on the fence, mailbox or garage doors at home
  • Getting lost, especially in familiar locations
  • Having trouble following traffic signals, road signs and pavement markings
  • Responding more slowly to unexpected situations or having trouble moving the foot from the gas to brake pedal, or confusing the two pedals
  • Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps
  • Experiencing road rage or causing other drivers to honk or complain
  • Easily becoming distracted or having difficulty concentrating while driving
  • Having a hard time turning around to check the rear view while backing up or changing lanes
  • Receiving multiple traffic tickets or warnings from law enforcement officers
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Your state did something to help you: It passed a law that requires everyone over the age of 80 who renews their driver's license to pass an eye exam. Many states now require that senior drivers show up in person for license renewals. Illinois and New Hampshire require older drivers to take a road test.

Who do you think is more likely to get into a car accident: an 18-year-old heading to the corner store or a 65-year-old driving to the mall? Here's a hint: Jonas Brothers are a'blaring. Kids are 33% more dangerous drivers than seniors. That's because, generally speaking, older folks with aging eyes and ears avoid driving at night and in bad weather, and are more likely to make three right turns to avoid one left turn. They have also outgrown ignoring stop lights.

If you think it's time to ask Dad for the keys permanently, there's good news: Most seniors know when it's time to stop driving, so you may be surprised when you have the "turn in your keys" talk. Just make sure he has alternative ways to feel (and stay) independent. Local services can provide rides when he needs them, but set up a list of friends and family he can call when he wants to go to the store, the bank, or a ball game.

Remember, the guy who taught you to drive may need time to adjust to this change in his life, so give him the understanding he needs, just like he gave you.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.