We as Americans are a freewheeling society. We like our cars, and we like our freedom to go where we please, when we please. But as loved ones get older, you may find yourself in the unenviable position of trying to keep them off the road when they start to lose the ability to operate an automobile safely. The question then becomes, what’s the best way to take the keys away?
As people get older, their ability to drive safely can be impacted by a variety of factors. Failing eyesight can be a problem, as can poor hearing. Slowed reaction times can increase the chance of accidents. Even medications can have side effects that make driving more difficult. But removing your loved one’s freedom to drive may be removing what they see as their last source of independence, and they may not surrender the keys willingly. With some planning, you can enlist the help of others to keep you from being the bad guy in your loved one’s eyes.
A good place to start is an open and honest conversation with your loved one, explaining your concerns and seeking his or her agreement that it’s time to consider other means of transportation. Be ready to suggest other options for transportation, such as public transit, the aid of other family members, or transportation services offered by some eldercare companies. Having another way to get around may help older drivers let go of the keys more easily.
If that conversation falls on ears that aren’t ready to hear it, you may want to enlist the help of your loved one’s physician or eye care specialist. They can offer counsel as to the dangers posed by health or vision problems, and often, a person will listen to their care providers where they won’t listen to their children.
You may also consider meeting with someone at the Department of Motor Vehicles to ask that the Department request a new vision examination, paper exam, or driving test for your loved one. The Department’s decision as to someone’s ability to drive safely based on their own examination will determine whether your loved one can stay on the road – if Mom or Dad can’t pass the written exam or a road test, their license won’t be renewed. This does remove the child from the decision-making process, and may take some of the tension out of the surrender of driving privileges. But be aware, Mom or Dad may want to know whose idea it was that they be retested, so it’s a good idea to be prepared to have that conversation with them if the need arises.
There is also an option local to the Baton Rouge area that may offer valuable assistance in this situation. Upon a physician’s order, Baton Rouge Rehabilitation Hospital will conduct a comprehensive driving evaluation to aid in determining an individual’s ability to drive safely. The evaluation includes both a clinical portion, conducted by an occupational therapist to determine the impact of health conditions (such as stroke or Alzheimer’s) and functional limitations (such as vision problems and slower reaction times) on driving safety, and an on-road evaluation, completed by a Driving Rehab Specialist, to assess the individual’s driving ability. Once the evaluation is completed, the occupational therapist and Driving Rehab Specialist will make recommendations for driving safety, which may include driver training, adaptive equipment for the vehicle, limitations on driving distance, time of day, or speed, and, if necessary, complete restriction of driving privileges. For more information, you can visit their website or contact them at 225-927-0567.
As with so many other decisions regarding aging relatives, removing driving privileges can be a difficult decision, and has the potential to cause a great deal of tension and hurt between those involved. Enlisting support from resources such as those discussed here can help defuse a lot of the tension and bring peace of mind knowing that your loved one won’t be behind the wheel when driving is no longer safe for them.
The information provided is not intended to be legal advice and does not constitute an attorney/client relationship. You should consult with an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation. Ms. Melancon has engaged in the practice of law in Ascension Parish for the last eighteen years. The primary focus of her practice is estate planning, probate, special needs planning and elder law. For more information or to attend an upcoming estate planning seminar, call her office at (225) 744-0027.