Driving helpers for aging drivers and concerned families
Dear Savvy Senior,
What types of resources are available to help elderly drivers and their families? My 84-year-old mother still drives fairly well but her skills have diminished some over the past few years and I know the day is soon coming where she'll need to quit.
With more and more Americans driving well into their 70s, 80s and beyond, there are lots of programs, tools and resources that exist today to help older drivers and their concerned family members. Here are some good ones to check out along with a few tips.
To help keep your mom safe while she's still driving, see to it that she gets her eyes checked every year to ensure her vision is up to par, and that she isn't taking any medications that could impair her driving.
A few simple driving adjustments can also go a long way in keeping her safe, such as not driving after dark or during rush hour traffic, avoiding major highways or other busy roads, and not driving in poor weather conditions.
It's also good to know the older driver's license renewal laws in your mom's state, which you can get by calling her nearby driver's license office or at iihs.org/laws/olderdrivers.aspx.
To help you and your mom evaluate her driving abilities, a do-it-yourself assessment is a good way to start. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has some great resources on their Web site to help with this. Just go to seniordrivers.org and download "Roadwise Review," a free screening tool that will test your mom's physical and mental abilities that are important for safe driving. Then click on the "DriveSharp Calculator," another short test, created by Posit Science that will rate her crash risk.
AAA also offers an online self-survey called the "Drivers 55-Plus Self Rating Quiz" that she can take at aaafoundation.org/quizzes, or call 800-305-7233 and have them mail you the brochure. Also see aaaseniors.com and safedrivingforalifetime.com, two new sites dedicated to helping older drivers.
Another option that can help tune-up your mom's driving skills is a driver refresher course. AAA and AARP both offer inexpensive older driver courses that may also earn her a discount on her auto insurance. To locate a nearby class contact your local AAA (aaa.com) or AARP (aarp.org/drive, 888-227-7669). Most courses can be taken in the classroom or online.
Find a pro
If you feel your mom could use some extra help, get a professional assessment done by a driver rehabilitation specialist - they can cost several hundred dollars up to $1,000. They will evaluate her driving skills along with how well she and her car fit together, and provide recommendations and solutions based on her needs. To locate a trained professional, contact the Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (driver-ed.org, 866-672-9466) or the American Occupational Therapy Association (aota.org/olderdriver).
Another good resource to check out is CarFit, a free assessment program that will help your mom adjust her vehicle for a better fit, making it easier and safer to drive. See car-fit.org to find an event near you.
If you're concerned about your mom's driving, a good way to keep an eye on her without impeding her driving is through the howsmydriving.com Senior Driving Program. This program puts a big How's My Driving ID sticker on her back windshield so other drivers on the road can report improper driving, which can be e-mailed to you. A similar service is available at backseatguardian.com.
Time to quit
If you find that your mom's driving is not safe anymore and she needs to give it up, the Hartford Financial Services Group and MIT AgeLab has a resource that can help called "Family Conversations with Older Drivers." At thehartford.com/talkwitholderdrivers you can find worksheets for evaluating your mom's driving, tips for talking to her about quitting driving and what to do if she refuses to stop.
When your mom does quit driving, the Area Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116 to get your local number) is your best resource for locating available alternative transportation options.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.