Protecting your safety and the safety of others is crucial. If you are worried that a loved one is no longer able to drive safely, then this resource page will provide tools you can use to effectively address the problem. If you can answer yes to one or more of the following questions, then it may be time to assess whether you or your loved ones can safely drive.
These resources can help you understand and protect yourself and help you gain insight into concerns you have about a person you think may no longer be able to drive safely.
Do YOU have skills to DRIVE SAFELY?
Perceptual/cognitive skills, such as:
Paying attention to multiple things at once (oncoming cars, pedestrians, light changes and a curve in the road)
Refocusing your attention once you look away (check speed then rearview mirror, then oncoming traffic…)
Visual skills, such as:
Recovering after glare blinds you
Looking across the whole scene, seeing everything, and getting your attention back quickly.
Movement skills, such as:
Moving your foot fast and with enough pressure on the pedal
Turning completely to look behind you
Putting on your seat belt easily
Having energy to get home again without fatigue hindering your driving
What you can do if you know about these skills? You and you family can:
Plan ahead and make wise decisions for the future.
Know if you have skills which can be improved or compensated for to help you be a safer driver.
Be confident of your skills in the car and on the street. Pedestrians need the same types of perceptual, visual and motor skills.
Be aware that the other drivers and pedestrians may not have all these skills, encouraging you be a better driver.
Why would you drive when you’re not safe?
Few driving options such as family, friends, public transport, walking
Unwillingness to change, self regulate, adapt, set own limits
Unaware how your fatigue, stress, distractions, and anger hinder driving
Unaware how your medical status and medications hinder driving
Unable to avoid busy streets, freeways, left turns, and high mileage
Not accepting meaning of dents, prior “incidents,” and friends’ warnings
Inability to self assess skills, for instance from dementia or denial
Drive Safely: Know what makes a safe driver, know your own limits.
See Safe Driving and Where to Go for Help on reverse
This information is for the person who is certain that unsafe driving is a problem:
First, you must differentiate between the driver who does not understand that they aren’t safe and the driver who can be reasoned with until they stop driving.
Occupational Therapy can help you evaluate cognitive skills. They can assess judgment for driving as well as for safe and independent management of medications and other areas of daily life. They can help determine if assistance is needed and if so what type.
Ask your physician for a referral to an OT, usually paid for by your insurance or Medicare. Taking action can bring you relief.
When you learn that denial, poor judgment, and lack of insight do not respond to reasoning, you can change how you respond to the unsafe driver and make different plans for the future.
The answer may lie in arranging, gently or forcibly, for the driver not to drive. It may help not to mention anything about driving safety for a while, while you try the following ideas. These ideas have been gathered from a variety of sources. Some of these ideas may seem drastic, but sometimes drastic steps are needed.
Be more available, (yourself or by hiring care), so someone happens to be there and offers to drive, be sure there are groceries and other necessities, and arrange for socialization without driving. (One of the main reasons people continue to drive is because there is not an alternative).
Distract and re-involve the person in other activities so that driving is less on the mind. Change schedules, the environment and habits that remind the person of driving: Keep the car out of sight, move the place where keys are stored, go out a different door.
Arrange for the car to be disabled, grind down the key, take the car in for “servicing” frequently, “get” flat tires often, use a wheel or steering wheel “lock.”
IF you think the driver will listen to authority, get outside support:
a doctor’s Rx that says don’t drive
a letter from the DMV
a letter from the insurance that says that this person will be responsible for all liability in case of an accident, since they are known to be an unsafe driver (in some states, YOU are liable if the person is an unsafe driver and something happens).
a letter from the insurance that says rates will increase
a letter from the accountant showing that the cost of the car is more than the cost of a taxi
a visit from the police, if feasible
These techniques may not work since they require reasoning, agreement and belief that someone else might know more than they do, but they may be worth a try, especially since the generation that is aging now gives high respect to authority.
For the person who is still adamant, families may need to take steps that are more drastic. Convincing this person won’t work. There are probably other skills of daily living that are also impaired and putting this person or others at risk: errors in managing their or their spouse’s medications, leaving on stoves and water, forgetting to do laundry or clean up the house, errors in finances, declining nutrition, less activity, more volatile behavior. A possible cause is dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Consulting the physician, a case manager, an occupational therapist or the Council on Aging for resources may be helpful; they can assist in planning interventions for the future.
Take care of yourself; helping the person whose cognition is impaired requires a special type of support and attention. See communication resources and caregiver resources.
Adapted from National Highway Traffic Administration. Safe driving issues are expected to increase but there are things we can do, too, for drivers and pedestrians.
Family and Neighborhood Awareness to Encourage Changes in Habits
Calculate the unseen cost of owning a car compared to paying for rides.
Encourage not driving, but keeping the car for others to drive
Arrange barter plans with neighbors, to trade rides for visiting, telephoning, taking out the garbage or preparing a meal
Advertise rather than hide the fact that you are not driving.
Expect assistance from family, friends and neighbors
Habit Changes to be Comfortable with Asking for and Receiving Assistance
Remember how you have felt when you were able to assist a friend.
Always be ready to say yes when someone asks if they can help you.
Be specific about how friends can help you when they ask.
Stay organized with lists, money etc to make it easier when people assist you.
Practice the grace and skill of asking for assistance with a positive attitude.
Recognize what you mean to and can offer friends, even if you need their help.
Allow other people to assist you while maintaining a positive feeling about yourself.
Learn to be appreciative without feeling guilty or indebted.
Talk to others about this dilemma.
Stay in contact with people who help you feel positive and valued.
Cultural Expectation Changes like the Influence MADD had on Drunk Driving
Make limiting or stopping driving accepted and encouraged
Make the needs of driving safely known
+ need to assess driving skills frequently
+ need to ask for assistance when tired, stressed, angry or ill
Make offering and accepting rides a positive thing
Expect health and welfare workers to be pro-active and solution oriented
Coordinate policies of DMV, legal, health, welfare, police, and fire services to identify and take action regarding unsafe drivers. This type of coordination has been successfully implemented to address Rape Crisis and Spousal Abuse in some counties.
Involve insurance companies to provide financial incentives for people not to drive with note from physician or DMV regarding driver status.
Community Planning Programs to Decrease the Need for Cars
Building housing near transportation
Building housing near shopping
Benches near bus stops and along walking routes
Grocery stores and pharmacies in neighborhoods
Safer walking areas, especially for street crossings
Expand alternative transportation that is accessible, acceptable, available, affordable and adaptable
Set up incentives for people to stop driving such as vouchers from businesses and health care facilities that can be applied to taxi services
Transportation Program Incentives to Plan for Safer Transportation Measures
More prominent signage to reduce wrong way movements at intersections
Larger lights and back plates for traffic signals to make them more noticeable
Additional signage to reduce driver uncertainty about street names
Advance signage, especially before freeway on-ramps
Advance signage for cross streets
Illuminated “dot bots” at crosswalks
Auto Retailer Incentives to Advertise Available Car Modifications
Brakes, hand controlled or low effort
Left foot and hand controls
Keyless entry and keyless ignition
Steering that is low effort, smaller radius, or joystick controlled
Pedals adjusted in height
Automobile Industry Incentives to Make Changes in How Cars Are Built
Mirrors, bigger rear view, bigger side view
Seatbelts, easier to put on
Lights, show when a car is changing momentum, side blinkers
Back up assistance
Seats with adjustable height
Handles for getting in and out of the car