PhotoBaby Boomers probably remember how uncomfortable their parents were when they worked up the courage to have “the talk.” The conversation may have been about sex, drugs or both.

Now, the shoe is on the other foot. It's Boomers who are trying to work up the nerve to talk to their parents about driving. So far, they aren't there yet.

Liberty Mutual Insurance conducted a survey in which it asked Boomers, whose parents were still driving, if they worried about their parents still being behind the wheel. Fifty-five percent said they did.

But when the survey asked if the child had discussed those concerns with their parents, only 23% had. Another 29% admitted they were likely to avoid the topic as long as possible.

"Nine in 10 Boomer children of senior drivers think it is important to have driving conversations with their aging parents, but few are taking action -- thus, not addressing potential safety risks on the roads," said David Melton, driving safety expert with Liberty Mutual Insurance.

Let's talk

From an insurance company's standpoint, it's a conversation that needs to happen.

"If people take away one lesson from this study, it is to have this conversation with your loved ones – and have it soon," Melton said.

Anecdotal evidence suggests seniors are now driving into their 90s. The National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), says there are a number of physical effects of aging that degrade a driver's ability.

Your eyesight may change as you get older. At night, you may have trouble seeing things clearly. Your hearing may change, making it harder to notice horns, sirens, or noises from your own car.

In order to drive safely, you should be able to react quickly to other cars and people on the road. You need to be able to make decisions and to remember what to do. Being able to make quick decisions while driving is important so you can avoid accidents and stay safe. Slowing reaction time can present a danger on the road.

Safer than young drivers

That said, the statistics have yet to suggest that older drivers are getting into more accidents. While drivers in their 70s and 80s have a higher insurance claim rate than those in their 50s and 60s, it is still lower than drivers under 30, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Accidents involving senior drivers may make headlines, but it doesn’t mean the elderly are causing more accidents, a 2012 IIHS report found. The rate of fatal crashes per licensed driver 70 and older fell 37% from 1997 to 2008. 

Still, if your parent is in her late 80s and still driving, you probably worry. In the Liberty Mutual survey 47% of Boomers worried about their parent's eyesight. Thirty-eight percent thought they drove too slowly and 25% worried their parents were easily distracted when behind the wheel.

So, why haven't they talked about it? According to the survey only 38% of those questioned think their parents would be open and receptive to any discussion about curtailing their driving.

What to do

Here are a couple of ideas for broaching the subject:

  • Make a first-hand observation: Take a ride with your parent and observe their driving. If it really is unsafe, then you have an example to cite and your case carries more credibility.
  • Be prepared: Before suggesting your parent surrender their car keys, look into alternate transportation solutions and be prepared to discuss options. Remember what driving represents -- freedom.

When you were a teenager, earning your driver's license was a major milestone in your life. Having access to a car gave you freedom and independence. For your parents, handing over the keys is also a major milestone – the reverse of what you felt at 16.

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