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One of the most important and perhaps most difficult considerations you will probably face is when or if you must take the keys away or ask your loved one with PD to give them up. This decision should not be made lightly; many see giving up their car keys as the total and definite loss of their independence. You will need to ensure this decision is made thoroughly, tactfully, and as lovingly as possible.

Having the ability to drive helps older adults stay active and independent; however, the risk of being hurt or even killed in an accident increases as people age. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an average of 500 older adults are injured every day in crashes, and statistics also show that older drivers are much more likely to be involved in accidents than younger drivers.

Watch out for these potential warning signs that it may be time for your loved one to give up their keys:

  • Drifting into other lanes

  • Straddling lanes

  • Making sudden lane changes for no reason

  • Ignoring or missing traffic signals or stop signs

  • Easily becoming confused in traffic

  • Braking or stopping abruptly without any reason

  • Hitting the accelerator suddenly without any cause

  • Coasting nearly to a complete stop during moving traffic

  • Pressing on the brake and accelerator at the same time while driving

  • Difficulty seeing pedestrians, objects, or even other vehicles

  • Getting nervous when driving

  • Driving at significantly slower speeds than the posted speed or than the general speed of surrounding vehicles

  • Backing up after missing an exit or road

  • Difficulty reacting quickly while trying to process multiple sounds and images

  • Problems with neck flexibility in turning to see traffic on the left or the right

  • Getting disoriented or lost easily even in familiar locations

  • Failing to use turn signals or even signal without changing lanes

  • Has increased near misses on the road

  • Has been issued two or more traffic tickets or warnings in the past two years

  • Has dents or scrapes present on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, or even curbs 

If you have noticed several of these signs happening, then it's time to seriously assess the situation. Don't wait for an accident to happen, but be sympathetic and caring toward your loved ones' feelings as losing the right to drive can be a traumatic event. Instead of forcibly taking the keys away, try these tactics to further assess the situation and ensure your loved one's safety and the safety of others:

  • Ride along to a few of the appointments and see how they do. Remember to be calm and do not nag or berate him or her on any driving mistakes that are made. Simply make casual observation notes to yourself when you come back.

  • Research other transportation that might be available if your loved one needs to quit driving. You can usually find public transportation such as local or city buses around your neighborhood. 

  • Casually check the vehicle occasionally for any possible dents or scrapes.

  • Suggest taking a driving test to evaluate their ability to drive a car. You can do this at your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

  • If you think your loved one is still capable but might simply be having a tough time now, suggest they enroll in a Mature Driving Course. It would benefit even the most experienced drivers to brush up on their driving skills and could potentially instill a newer sense of confidence in driving.

Remember, a person's age is not and should not be the sole reason for taking away the car keys. Many seniors in their 80s and 90s are still active and safe drivers, yet there are also those in their 50s and 60s who have become a danger to themselves and others on the road. The true factors that must be considered in this decision should be the mental and physical condition of the person.

If the keys are ultimately taken away from your loved one, remind them it isn't the end of their independence. They can take alternate methods of transportation to their destinations and these different ways of getting around can offer health and social benefits along with being a welcomed change of pace in one's life.

Sources:

The Davis Phinney Foundation. Page 78. When is it time for my person with Parkinson's to stop driving? Every Victory Counts for Care Partners. "Manual."Sixth Edition, 2021.

Driving

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