Protecting Older Drivers

How do you tell an aging loved one it's time to give up driving? More and more young people are facing that situation, with parents living far into old age after retirement. The American Association of Retired Persons has some advice on how to deal with that when the time comes, as Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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It's a fact that many peoples' coordination, vision and driving skills deteriorate when they get old. Some more than others and some not at all. The AARP's Elinor Ginzler is an expert on older driver safety, and she says while you can't generalize because there are countless exceptions, there's no doubt that America is getting older every year.

"About one in seven drivers is over the age of 65. When the last of the baby-boomers turns 65, which will take place in the year 2029, it'll be one in four drivers who are sixty five years of age and older."

That means there are more and more people driving who probably shouldn't be. Ginzler says deterioration is gradual, but there are warning signs, and it helps to actually ride around with mom or dad to see them for yourself.

"You want to look at the car. Are there some dents or scrapes on the car. That could be a source of evidence for you right there. You want to check how response time is going. How is it when they move their foot from the brake to the gas, from the gas to the brake? How well do they turn that steering wheel? Can they turn their head."

Ginzler says if it's clear that the time has come, she recommends against just taking their keys away. She favors talking about it and leading them to the decision you want them to make.

"And work with them collectively, collaboratively, so the older driver is making the decision. They might make the decision to hang up those car keys. But it's not 'take'em away', it's make a decision to hang them up."

Ginzler says giving up the car is hard, because it means they're giving up their mobility and independence, and many people just won't do it, but taking the keys away arbitrarily should be done only as a last resort.

"I think you have to know your family. You have to know your family dynamics. You have to be comfortable with how you are approaching this, and if you really believe that your family member should not be behind that wheel, you do what you need to do."

And let them know you're ready to step up and fill the void by driving them yourself, or providing other transportation for them. Do whatever is needed to allow mom or dad to continue feeling independent, so they won't feel isolated from people they love. AARP has more information on how to talk about safe driving with older drivers, which you can find in a link on our website KUHF dot ORG. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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