Having “The Talk” with Elderly Parents

A friend of mine recently returned from visiting her elderly parents in outstate Missouri. While there, her father announced he was preparing to take “Mom” to renew her driver’s license. Alarmed, my friend reminded him of Mother’s multiple disabilities and frailty, including extremely poor eyesight and hearing. Her father, unmoved by her protests and concern, countered that driving in a small farming town wasn’t exactly like navigating a big city like St. Louis. Besides, he added, just having the knowledge that she could run an errand or two was important to maintaining Mom’s sense of independence. My friend left without pursuing the subject any further. “It’s easier to talk to them about their advance directives than their need to stop driving!” she said in exasperation.

The Dilemma with the Senior Driver: Keeping Them Safe

Unfortunately, in our capacity as personal injury lawyers, we’ve heard countless versions of the same story before. With the incidence of accidents for drivers age 65+ higher than any age group besides teenagers, we’ve got to get better at communicating with our aging parents and elderly friends about driving issues. Part of that discussion—as distasteful as it may seem—includes the possibility of pushing for additional restrictions on our elderly parents’ driving if needed.

In 2010, a national transportation research group released the report, “Keeping Baby Boomers Mobile: Preserving the Mobility and Safety of Older Americans”. The study found that while the total number of traffic fatalities has declined in recent years, older motorists, 65 years of age and older, accounted for a disproportionately high share of fatal accidents.

“Although drivers 65 and older account for eight percent of all miles driven in the nation, 17 percent of all traffic fatalities occurred in crashes where at least one driver was 65 or older,” the report states.

There is no consistent standard for determining whether an elderly person can drive safely. We know that the aging process slows reaction time and makes it more difficult to focus and maintain attention for sustained periods of time. Moreover, common physical impairments affecting the elderly can include a lack of sensation in the legs and feet, stiffness in joints and movement, including the neck, and vision and/or hearing problems. Furthermore, there are numerous medications that can also affect the ability to drive.

Having “The Talk”: Strategies and Resources

If you are uncomfortable having “The Talk” with your parents, consider enlisting her/his physician’s help. The doctor can do a medical examination to ensure that your parent’s driving safety is not being compromised and recommend limits on driving if indicated.

Another option is to access one of the numerous driving assessment programs available that offer comprehensive evaluations for medically-impaired drivers or drivers with disabilities. You will need a doctor’s referral and a medical history, along with a valid driver’s license or permit. By clicking HERE, you can find contact numbers and information for driving assessment programs serving St. Louis City and St. Louis County. If you are from a county outside St. Louis, call your local Department of Revenue to obtain information about programs in your area.

Finally, know the law. In Missouri, starting at age 70, drivers must renew a license every three years, compared with every six years for adults ages 21 to 69. State law allows doctors, law enforcement, social workers, therapists and immediate family members to report a potentially unsafe driver to the Department of Revenue, which can investigate and require testing or license restrictions. Reporting is confidential.

As aggressive injury lawyers, we believe that what distinguishes us resides in our unwavering dedication to the people we serve, our compassionate advocacy, and our capacity for connecting clients to the helpful resources and information they and their loved ones may need. We care. Call one of our Top 100 Trial lawyers at: 314-409-7060 or 855-40-CRASH (toll free).

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