Thousands of senior citizens will die in traffic accidents this year, according to the Department of Transportation. Many of those fatal wrecks will happen after loved ones try and fail to keep that elderly driver from getting behind the wheel.
So many seniors see losing driving privileges as losing freedom and independence. "He was in an accident where he actually totaled out his truck," explains Angie White who knows how heartbreaking it can be to tell your parent they can no longer drive. "Very, very difficult because it's also for you the change of seeing your parent get to a place where they can't do things for themselves and the role reverses," White explains.
White knows firsthand what can happen if you don't stop an elderly loved one from driving soon enough. Her 84 year old dad caused a serious wreck and he actually expected to continue to be able to get behind the wheel after that. "That was very difficult for him when I just finally had to take his keys. He was getting to the point where he would get lost because he had Alzheimer's," says White.
Catherine Cook a counselor with the Harris County Area Agency on Aging says accidents and confusion are two of the biggest red flags that someone shouldn't be driving anymore. "They get confused and they're 30, 40, 50 miles away and don't know how to get back. So confusion is a big issue," says Cook.
Other signs senior citizens should stop driving? If they have hearing or vision problems. "Like if you can't see. You can't judge distances. That's when I would quit driving immediately," says 89 year old Loraine Millsap. Also, if seniors have slowed reflexes and excessive traffic tickets. "No tickets. Would you believe I never had a ticket in my life?" smiles Stella Alston. The 86 year old still drives herself to work out and anywhere she needs to go. Some in her workout class admit they have had accidents but still drive. "I backed into the lady. When I saw her she was way down there then I looked around she was right behind me," explains 77 year old Barbara Campbell.
Leon Francis had a wreck and made the decision to never drive again. He says it just isn't worth it to push it and then take his or someone else's life. "It's kind of scary because just like I ran in the ditch I could hit someone in an automobile and cause injuries," explains the 75 year old.
Cook says the best way to get an elderly loved one to stop driving is to talk with them and point out why getting behind the wheel is now extremely dangerous for them. If talking doesn't work she says you may have to take the keys or even go to the Department of Motor Vehicles. "Maybe put some restrictions on the license," says Cook.
While many seniors say they realize the danger, they say they just can't imagine having their driving privileges taken away. "I would get totally depressed. I would get sick. If they took my license right now from me I would really get depressed," explains Enola Rabotte
Cook also reminds you when you take away a seniors driving privileges you have to also give them options to get around, such as designating a family member. She says it's a good idea to begin monitoring a loved one's driving when they turn 60 years old.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration people over age 65 are the fastest growing segment of the population and that is expected to cause crash related fatalities to skyrocket.
Helpguide.org offers a list of ten safety tips for elderly drivers to follow at http://www.helpguide.org/elder/senior_citizen_driving.htm
On the Web:
AAA Senior Driving -- http://seniordriving.aaa.com/
American Automobile Association Interactive Driving Evaluation -- http://seniordriving.aaa.com/evaluate-your-driving-ability/interactive-driving-evaluation
Drivers 65 Plus: Check Your Performance A Self-Rating Tool with Facts and Suggestions for Safe Driving -- http://seniordriving.aaa.com/sites/default/files/Driver652.pdf
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Resources for People Around Older Drivers -- http://www.nhtsa.gov/Senior-Drivers
Helpguide.org Senior Citizen Driving Tips -- http://www.helpguide.org/elder/senior_citizen_driving.htm