How to protect mom and dad behind the wheel

There is no substitute for experience in an increasingly mobile society that is driving across ever more congested roads. You simply cannot teach instincts. And it takes years behind the wheel to develop practical skills and defensive tactics that help keep motorists and their passengers safe.

As your parents retire and grow older, their driving priorities evolve from work commutes and child shuttling to socializing, performing chores and volunteering. What if their expert skills start to erode? It can become harder to see traffic lights and turn signals, especially at night. They might forget where they were going or get in more fender benders and close calls. Then it is more important than ever to scrutinize mom and dad’s driving abilities.

Tips for topflight driving

Safe driving depends on vision, cognition and motor-sensory skills. Whether those skills are functioning should determine when a person retires from driving, according to safety experts. It is never too early to have those conversations with your parents and their doctors. The American Medical Association offers suggestions for senior drivers to help protect their welfare and that of their passengers and fellow motorists:

  • Check blind spots. Changing lanes and backing up make them most susceptible to collisions with other cars and pedestrians.
  • Be careful at intersections. Always look both ways and consider making three right turns to avoid a more complicated left.
  • Concentrate on the road. Do not be afraid to tell noisy grandchildren to pipe down to keep their focus on driving.
  • Plan the trip. Know the route they are going to take before leaving and avoid rush hour or poor weather.
  • Check side effects. Talk to their doctors about prescribing medicine that will not make them too drowsy to drive.
  • Take a safety class. Reinforce their skills with an instructor and ask their insurance agent if that can discount their premiums.
  • Find alternatives. Volunteer to drive your parents they do not feel safe or see whether their local community offers senior transportation options.

Self-evaluation is more relevant than ever as the baby-boom generation ages and life expectancy increases. Americans 65 and older will account for 21% of the population in 10 years, and about 40 million will be licensed drivers. The public health stakes are high.

In 2017, crashes involving a driver 65 years and older killed 183 people and seriously injured 736 on Missouri roads. The good news from the state’s latest report was that casualties decreased by 20% since 2015.

Know their limitations

Giving up driving is never an easy decision. The freedom and independence that come with hitting the open road define so much of the American psyche. There are practical advantages as well.

But driving is a privilege, not a right. Being licensed carries legal responsibilities to properly function in the driver’s seat and uphold universal safety standards to help make sure everyone stays safe on the road. It is important to recognize the ways that old age can affect driving and have the courage to ask your parents whether they need help if you feel their grip on the wheel is slipping.