This is a very good question. It is a well-known fact that the population is ageing, and that we now have more drivers than ever aged 80 or over.
This is set to keep increasing, as people are living longer and are more able to retain their independence into their 80s and even 90s.
It is, however, a highly sensitive issue, in that inevitably many older drivers will experience a deterioration in some aspects of their health; their eyesight is just one example which would certainly affect driving ability.
Other skills that may deteriorate with age – and which could affect driving – are hearing, reaction times and physical mobility. As we age our joints get stiffer and we can find it more difficult to turn our head to check our blind spot for example. Another significant factor to consider is medication. It is not uncommon for people to take more medicines as they age – but prescription drugs can have side effects such as drowsiness and dizziness.
In the UK the law requires drivers to renew their licence at the age of 70, then every three years after that. In America the rules vary between states but, generally, older drivers are required to renew their licences at a certain age and again after a set number of years. To renew their licence drivers will have to prove they meet minimum eyesight requirements.
Even if an elderly parent has been given official approval to drive, it is still natural to worry. The difficult lies in raising such concerns with an elderly driver, as taking away someone’s mobility is a massive step.
Based on your original question, my tips are:
- Communicate with your father on a regular basis, not just in relation to driving, but life in general.
- Remember that your father has been driving for many years and is likely to consider himself a very skilled, experienced and competent road user. Your aim should not be to offend or accuse him of bad driving!
- Keep a close eye on your father’s skills in other areas of their life – for example does his mobility affect him around the home? Does he appear to have slower reactions or a deterioration in hearing? Look out for these warning signs as they could impact on driving ability.
- Talk to your father about any medication he takes and check labels for side effects. Ask him to chat to his GP about how his health and medication might affect his driving.
- Go along on a journey with him to see for yourself how he drives.
- Bring up the discussion sensitively. You don’t want your father to feel you are taking his independence away. Losing mobility, or admitting the need to stop driving, is a massive step.
- Talk about whether your father finds any particular journeys more difficult – such as driving at night or at peak times. Rather than suggesting he stops driving altogether it might be worth suggesting he ‘self-regulates’ by cutting out these journeys to begin with.
- It might also be worth thinking about the particular vehicle your father drives. There are plenty of small vehicles out there which might be easier to manoeuvre. Some elderly drivers may find an automatic transmission vehicle easier to control.
From a personal perspective the last couple of years of my mom’s life she struggled to get her car off the drive without hitting the wall. She made the decision herself to buy a newer smaller car which had more safety features and was easier to manoeuvre. It gave her an extra couple of years of mobility.
The AA and other motoring organisations have done research on older drivers, and have provided some excellent guidance, which is also worth reviewing.