If you want to start an argument at Thanksgiving dinner, suggest that older drivers might not be the safest out there. Seniors usually take offense at such a suggestion – perhaps rightly so.
But a survey by Caring.com, a seniors-oriented webstite, shows that nearly 14 million drivers between the ages of 18-64 were involved in a "road incident" with a driver over age 65 in the last 12 months. Millennials – drivers between the ages of 18 and 29 – were most likely to be involved in a senior mishap.
The survey turned up a few surprises. Despite seniors' reputation for diminishing driving skills, all age groups but one ranked them ahead of drunk drivers, teenagers, and drivers distracted by their cell phones.
The one group that believes elderly drivers are more of a threat than drunk drivers is older drivers themselves – those 65 and older. Even so, the whole subject of driving can be a sensitive topic for older Americans, says Andy Cohen, CEO of Caring.com.
"Driving is often associated with independence and freedom, which is why many senior citizens are reluctant to give up their car keys," Cohen said.
Because of that, families are not likely to talk to older family members about becoming passengers. According to a past Caring.com survey conducted with the National Safety Council, 40% of Americans would prefer to discuss selling a home or making funeral arrangements.
Yet the new survey shows many older drivers are waiting for someone to start the conversation. Nearly a third of 65-plus drivers said they would prefer a family member determine whether they should still have a drivers license.
"No one wants to be the one to take away Mom or Dad's keys, but sometimes it can be crucial for their safety," said Cohen. "Plus, many seniors would actually prefer to hear it from a family member than from a police officer on the road. There are numerous online resources that people can use to make the conversation go as smoothly as possible."
As we reported last year, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine are training police officers in ways to recognize warning signs of impaired driving skills and to take appropriate action. They also urge doctors to think more about their patients’ ability to drive safely as they age.
In fact, doctors are being trained to assess their patients for age-related driving impairments – such as issues with vision, loss of mobility, fragility, and dementia.
What to do
If you are concerned about an older family member's safety behind the wheel, 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.