Having to suggest to your parents that it might be time to hand over the keys to their car and stop driving can be a difficult and often daunting conversation to have. You want them to be happy and independent but most importantly you want them and the people around them to be safe. So when should your ageing parent stop driving?
For the elderly, handing the keys over can sometimes signal the giving up of their last bastion of independence, so it’s important you approach it at the right time and in the right way. Age alone isn’t necessarily a reason for your parent to stop driving. There has been public debate about the number of road accidents involving senior citizens and whether or not they should be allowed on the road. Both the NRMA and Council On The Ageing (COTA) contend that the right of a person to hold a licence should be based on ability, not age.
If your parent is in good shape physically and mentally and are still capable behind the wheel then there may be no reason to have the conversation just yet. However, there are a number of considerations which should determine if it’s safe for your parent to be on the road. These include:
Vision and hearing
Impaired vision decreases the ability to see vital road signs, lane markings, traffic lights, other vehicles and pedestrians. Similarly, a loss of hearing can mean alert tones such as horns and sirens can be missed.
Slowed reflexes means it takes longer to react to things on the road such as slowing traffic, bike riders and unexpected behaviour from other motorists and pedestrians.
Injury or weakening of muscles can make it difficult to grip the steering wheel, change gear, apply pressure to the brake pedal and upper body rotation when checking mirrors and blind spots.
Medication and alcohol
Certain medications can have an effect on mental alertness or cause drowsiness as can alcohol.
Some signs that it’s time
• Missing stop sign and other road signs without realising
• Driving at abnormally slow speeds
• Getting flustered and confused
• Hitting objects like gutters, road cones or other vehicles without realising
• Not indicating or looking when changing lanes
The decision for your parent to stop driving, whether voluntary or involuntary, can have substantial ramifications that you should be aware of. Particularly for elderly people who like to be mobile and socially active, no longer having the freedom to drive can give them a sense of isolation.
In most cases there is likely to be a range of alternative means of transport so it’s important to take the time to explore the options with your parent. Depending on the area your parent lives these options could range from mobility scooters, buses, trains, taxis and ride sharing such as Uber through to local church or community courtesy buses.
You may also want to consider the activities your parent was doing while driving such as grocery shopping. You could have the groceries ordered and delivered online, or if your parent still wants to go out but can’t carry the goods home on the bus for example, purchase in store, but home delivery can be arranged.
It may also mean you and other family members having to be called on, particularly during the transition period. There may be a doctors appointment or a social event they feel a little anxious about getting to, so knowing they don’t have to worry about transportation will help put their mind at ease.
Each state has certain requirements for the elderly to maintain a valid drivers licence including medical and driving assessments. The following links have further information on the requirements and how often driver assessment needs to take place.
NSW – https://roads-waterways.transport.nsw.gov.au/roads/licence/older-drivers/index.html
You will be required to get annual medical checks when you reach the age of 75 if you are a Class C driver or Class R rider in New South Wales.
VIC – https://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/licences/health-and-driving/how-ageing-can-affect-your-driving
In Victoria, you’re allowed to drive up to any age, as long as you’re medically safe to drive. As you get older, you are legally obliged to notify VicRoads, the licensing authority in Victoria if you have or develop a medical condition or disability that could affect your driving.
QLD – Safe driving
If you are 75 and over, you must have a valid Medical Certificate for Motor Vehicle Driver Form with you when driving.
WA – Renew my driver’s licence (seniors 80-84) Renew my driver’s licence (seniors 85+)
Drivers aged 80 or over in Western Australia are required to have annual medical assessments before they can renew their licence.
TAS – Driving as you age
In Tasmania, Do not need to complete a medical check regularly and the validity period of licences issued after the driver turns 65 is five years.
Road safety for seniors
There are also a number of road safety education programs that can help your parents stay safe on the road with most automobile associations providing information or assessments.