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How Do You Tell Mom or Dad it’s No Longer Safe for Them to Drive?

I.I.I. Offers Tips on How to Talk to Loved Ones about Retiring from Driving

NEW YORK, June 19, 2008 - Most older drivers believe they will know when they should stop driving. But giving up the car keys and the many benefits of owning a car, including a sense of independence, is often one of the most difficult decisions an older person must make, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

While driving skills vary from one senior person to another, the physical and mental changes that accompany aging can diminish the abilities of senior drivers. These can include a slowdown in reflexes, loss of muscle strength and agility; vision and hearing impairments; drowsiness due to medications; and a general reduction in alertness.

“Many senior drivers adjust their driving habits as their abilities diminish,” said Loretta Worters, vice president of the I.I.I. “They drive fewer miles, avoid complex intersections and stay off interstate highways. But some older drivers are unwilling to make the necessary changes, endangering the lives of themselves-and others,” she added. “We know that based on per-miles-driven, crash rates for seniors are far worse than any other age group except for the youngest teens.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 30 million older licensed drivers in the U.S. in 2006 (the most recent numbers)-an 18 percent increase from 1996. Older drivers accounted for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 202,000 older individuals were injured in traffic crashes, accounting for 8 percent of all people injured in traffic crashes during the year. Collision rates per mile driven increase after age 70 and increase more rapidly after age 80.

Signs that it Might be Time to Retire from Driving

Family and caregivers should watch for common signs of decline in a senior person's driving abilities. These are some of the indications:

  • Drives at inappropriate speeds; responds slowly or does not notice other drivers or pedestrians.
  • Fails to yield to other cars or pedestrians who have the right-of-way.
  • Ignores street signs and traffic lights.
  • Fails to judge distances between cars correctly.
  • Becomes easily distracted; appears drowsy, confused or frightened.
  • Has one or more near-accidents.
  • Drifts between lanes or bumps into curbs.
  • Drives without headlights on.
  • Has difficulty with glare from oncoming headlights, streetlights or other bright objects.
  • Has difficulty turning his or her head, neck, shoulders or body while driving or parking.
  • Ignores signs of mechanical problems such as low-inflated tires (a frequent cause of accidents).
  • Not strong enough to turn the wheel quickly in an emergency situation.
  • Gets lost repeatedly, even in familiar areas.
What Can a Caregiver Do?

Numerous states have instituted more stringent license renewal policies for senior drivers, such as more frequent and in-person renewals, regular eye tests and driving tests upon reaching a designated age. But for those senior drivers who live in states that do not have this kind of testing, caregivers should consider taking the following precautions:

  • Suggest yearly eye and hearing exams. Poor vision, such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration can reduce vision or limit visual fields. Poor hearing can prevent a senior from hearing a siren, car horn or pedestrian. Use of hearing aids and other devices should be considered.

  • Review medical conditions and speak to a doctor. Certain medications can cause drowsiness or mental confusion. Drugs prescribed for insomnia and anxiety, for example, can increase the crash risk among drivers who take them. If you suspect dementia or Alzheimer’s, have your loved one checked by a doctor. Aside from memory loss and disorientation, signs of Alzheimer’s can include aggression, which can be very dangerous to other drivers and pedestrians. A doctor can help you to encourage a senior to stop driving.

  • Suggest a driving test and refresher course. A driver rehabilitation specialist can safely assess a senior driver’s abilities with an office exam and driving test. Ask your loved one’s doctor for a referral or contact the Association for Driver Rehabilitation specialists. Your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles may also offer driving tests. It is important that senior drivers stay proactively involved in keeping their driving skills sharp. Indeed, in many states, insurance companies offer an auto insurance discount for mature drivers if a person meets a given age criteria and has taken an approved mature driver safety course. Courses and informative pamphlets are available from the AARP, AAA and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
“Involve your parent or loved one in the decision to adjust or stop their driving,” advised Worters. “Suggest they avoid long distance driving, night driving or expressway driving. Encourage them to leave plenty of time to get where they are going and not to drive alone.”

If you suspect that your loved one should stop driving altogether, the Insurance Information Institute has these tips to offer:

  • Tell your loved one you are concerned and give specific reasons. Ask if he or she shares your concerns. Provide examples of recent fender benders, getting lost or running stop signs. Do not bring up these issues in the car. Wait until your loved one is calm and you have his or her full attention.

  • Create a transportation plan. It is easier for people to give up driving if they have identified alternative ride options. Many cities offer special discounts for seniors on buses and trains, and senior centers and community service agencies often provide special transportation alternatives. Family and friends can take turns driving seniors where they need to go. Some families set up accounts to pay for their loved one’s transportation needs through a cab service. It can help to remind senior drivers that owning an auto is expensive, including the annual cost for fuel, maintenance and insurance.

    Another option for safe mobility includes ITNAmerica, the Independent Transportation Network® which offers rides in private automobiles, 24/7 to seniors who limit or stop driving. ITNAmerica is based in Portland, Maine, with affiliates now in four cities and plans are underway to expand its network to four more.

  • Realize that your loved one may become upset or defensive. After all, driving is important for independence and self-esteem. If your loved one is unwilling to talk, don’t give up. Your continued concern and support may help him or her feel more comfortable with this topic. If you feel strongly that your parent or family member cannot drive safely and will not stop, consider contacting the local Department of Motor Vehicles and report your concerns. Depending upon state regulations and your senior's disabilities, it may be illegal for them to continue to drive. The DMV may do nothing more than send a letter, but this might help convince your parent to stop.
Other Things to Consider

Family and caregivers should make sure that the seniors have adequate auto liability insurance and that coverage doesn’t lapse.

“Older parents may forget to make an insurance payment,” said Worters. “Sadly, if they are involved in an auto accident it could result in serious legal and financial problems for them.”

For more information on older drivers, visit the I.I.I. Web site.

Other useful information is available from the following organizations:
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
Administration on Aging, Department of Health and Human Services
American Association of Retired Persons
American Medical Association
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
National Traffic Safety Administration.

For related audio, go to I.I.I. Offers Tips on How to Talk to Loved Ones about Retiring from Driving.

The I.I.I. is a nonprofit, communications organization supported by the insurance industry.

Contact: Press Offices
New York: 212-346-5500;
Washington, D.C.: 202-833-1580