At some point in your life – and maybe it’s already happened – you will probably have to make a decision about driving. Specifically, when to stop driving.
Either you will have to let a parent know it’s time to hand over the car keys, or one of your children or your spouse will tell you it’s time for you to move over to the passenger seat.
It happens to every driver eventually, and it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed about.
But just as you probably knew better than your parents as to when they should stop driving, your kids or spouse might know better than you when it’s time for you to give up this privilege.
Most older drivers don’t want to talk about it.
More than 6,700 Americans 65 years of age or older died in car crashes in 2016. That represents about 18 percent of total fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has explored this issue and is encouraging family members to discuss it among themselves and with medical personnel.
Unfortunately, 83 percent of older drivers do not consult a doctor or a loved one about their driving abilities. Mainly because they are concerned they’ll lose a big part of their independence.
The fact is, most older adults can still drive safely. But there will come a time in everyone’s life when that is no longer the case.
Tips for this difficult conversation
Admittedly, this can be a very difficult subject to talk about. Both for the younger and the older person.
Among those who do discuss this important topic, 65 percent say they are prompted by safety concerns, 22 percent by health issues, 15 percent by a driving infraction or crash, and 7 percent by a desire to plan for the future. (Some respondents citied multiple reasons, in case you’re wondering why those percentages add up to more than 100.)
Driving represents mobility and freedom, and very few people want to give that up. Especially if they’ve been driving for 50 or more years.
Whether you are the one encouraging a parent to stop driving, or one of your children or your spouse is telling you it’s time to park the car one final time, here are some tips regarding how that conversation should go. (These tips are from the younger person’s perspective.)
- Be compassionate and reasonable. Don’t criticize or yell.
- Use “I” more than “you.” For example, say things such as, “I’m concerned about your safety when you are driving,” rater than, “You’re no longer a safe driver.”
- Make alternative plans for them. Promise rides on days when you know your parent or spouse needs to be somewhere that they normally drive to.
Someday, self-driving cars may become the norm rather than the exception. And perhaps knowing when to stop driving will no longer be a concern for anyone.
But until that day comes, this is a subject that needs to be addressed among family members and perhaps a doctor.
“This is such a massive issue,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “A majority of people aren’t having the conversation at all.”