For most of us, driving represents freedom, control, and competence. Driving lets us go to the places we want or need to go. For many of us – even as we get older – driving is important economically. We drive to get to and from work, and sometimes as part of our jobs. Driving is important socially; it lets us stay connected to our communities and favorite activities.
Driving appears to be relatively easy, but in fact it is a complex skill. Our ability to drive safely is affected by changes in our physical and mental conditions. Many of these changes take place as we get older, though in different ways and at different times.
Research shows that age is not the sole predictor of driving ability and safety. But there is ample evidence to show that most of us experience age-related declines in our physical and mental abilities – declines that can signal a greater crash risk.
One key to safety is knowing when a driver is at increased risk – even if we ourselves are that driver. So we must know what signs to look for, and pay attention to them. We need to understand how our driving environment changes, and what we should do to respond to those changes. We can learn about community resources that can keep us driving safely longer or keep us connected to the activities in our lives if we must cut back or stop driving altogether.
Driving or riding in a car is how most older adults get around. Most people 65 and older change how they drive as they age, choosing to drive only during daylight hours, for example, or limiting where they drive, or cutting back on how often they drive. This booklet helps families and friends of older drivers understand when and how such changes may be needed and how to keep older persons better connected to the people and activities that are important to them.
This booklet is also intended to broaden the discussion about older driver safety and mobility. It:
- gives information on helping older drivers make informed decisions about their driving behavior, and
- lists suggestions on how to begin conversations with the older driver about safety concerns. These conversations seldom happen often enough, and when they do, the older person fears – sometimes accurately – that someone is trying to take the car keys away. Unfortunately, discussions about continuing to drive often begin too late. And very often, families are asking the wrong questions.
The decision about driving for older adults is an emotionally charged issue, but it does not have to be that way.