When to Have That Difficult Conversation with a Senior Driver

Recently we have had a few situations involving older drivers that gave us cause for concern.  In one case, the driver had msenior driversore than one crash in a short period of time.  The driver told the officer that they didn’t know how their car was damaged although it was pretty significant.  In another the driver drove up a walk path to the front door of one of our buildings.  Literally.  The most common scenario is mistaking the brake and accelerator.

If we believe there are warning signs about any person Michigan law provides for us to contact the Secretary of State’s Office and request that the person be retested for ability to drive.  It isn’t just about age — it is about health both physical and mental.

As we age there are some factors that need to be considered to determine whether it is time to find alternative transportation.  I realize this problem is made much worse by the limited transportation options of seniors in our community.  As a member of the leadership team for our community in their Aging for a Lifetime efforts, we learned that transportation is probably the biggest single challenge.

Our Senior Services department does offer bus transportation to some destinations.  Call 248-364-9353 for more information.

Here are some signs that it may be time to have that difficult conversation:

  • Does the senior driver confuse the gas and brake pedals or have difficulty working them? Drivers who lift their legs to move from the accelerator to the brake, rather than keeping a heel on the floor and pressing with the toes, may be signaling waning leg strength.
  • Does the senior driver seem to ignore or miss stop signs and other traffic signals? Perhaps the driver is inattentive or cannot spot the signs in a crowded, constantly moving visual field.
  • Does the senior driver weave between or straddle lanes? Signaling incorrectly or not at all when changing lanes can be particularly dangerous, especially if the driver fails to check mirrors or blind spots.
  • Do other senior drivers honk or pass frequently, even when the traffic stream is moving relatively slowly? This may indicate difficulty keeping pace with fast-changing conditions.
  • Does the senior driver get lost or disoriented easily, even in familiar places? This could indicate problems with working memory or early cognitive decline.
  • The senior driver has been issued two or more traffic tickets or warnings in the past two years. Tickets can predict greatest risk for collision.
  • The senior driver has been involved in two or more collisions or “near-misses” in the past two years. Rear-end crashes, parking lot fender-benders and side collisions while turning across traffic rank as the most common mishaps for drivers with diminishing skills, depth perception or reaction time.

If you ride with a driver who exhibits one or more of the warning signs, consider discussing the benefits of getting a comprehensive driving assessment to help identify and address any risky driving behaviors and maximize safe driving.

Most people know when their driving skills and abilities aren’t as sharp as they used to be. Two of the most common coping mechanisms used by unsafe senior drivers include:

  • Using a “copilot” to help respond to situations in the driving environment. Anyone who cannot drive safely and comfortably without a copilot should not drive at all.
  • Driving too slow or too fast for conditions. Driving too slow can be a sign that the driver is compensating for slowed reflexes or reduced reaction time. Those who drive too fast may not realize how fast they are traveling or be overcompensating due to a fear of being noticed for driving too slowly.

For more information go to AAA’s senior driving resource pages. or to evaluate your own driving go to AAA’s Interactive Driving Evaluation.

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I'm the Chief of Police for the Auburn Hills Police Department.