Dear Doc | How old is too old to drive?
Q Dear Doc, is there an age when people should stop driving? I have been trying to stop my father from driving but nothing works! He is old, slow and shaky and doesn’t see very well, but he refuses to stop driving.
I have offered to take him out on weekends, get him a driver, pay for a taxi, and all I can hear is that he can manage and he’s not depending on anybody. With all the road accidents lately, I fear I’ll get a call one day about him.
Is there any way I can take him to a doctor to tell him that he is unfit to drive?
A Unfortunately, no. There is no set age when older people should stop driving. It depends on many factors.
Older drivers can still be safe drivers. There are many older persons who are very alert and manage well on the roads; and Jamaican roads are quite a task in themselves.
But it is also true that, besides teens, older drivers are involved in more deadly car crashes than any other age group. However, whether they are at fault in these road accidents is yet to be known.
Being able to drive is important to older people, and most people don’t want to give it up. Driving gives people the freedom to go where they want, when they want. When people can’t or don’t drive, they have to depend on others. This can be hard for many reasons. It is difficult to surrender your independence.
One way to check if someone is a safe driver is to have him or her take an on-the-road driving test.
No, I do not mean taking your father to the exam depot to do a driving test, but you can ask him to drive you somewhere and see how well he manages.
I had to do this with my mother before I was able to borrow her car, even though I had passed my driving test and had a driver’s licence.
If that exercise leaves you even more concerned, simply telling your father he cannot drive may not go very well. You can take him to the doctor for a medical visit to assess his medical suitability to drive.
How do doctors decide if a person should stop driving?
To help decide if your father should stop driving, the doctor will:
1) First talk with your father and ask about any existing medical conditions. Certain medical conditions make it more unsafe for people to drive. These include heart problems, movement disorders, diabetes, arthritis and sleep disorders. The doctor will also ask about medicines the person takes. Certain medicines can make people feel sleepy or slow down their reflexes.
2) Do a medical exam. As part of the exam, the doctor will see how well the person moves, especially his or her neck, shoulders, and wrists. He or she will check the person’s balance and grip strength. The doctor will also check the person’s vision and hearing. Problems with any of these things can affect a person’s driving.
3) Check your father’s thinking and memory. The doctor will ask questions that will test his thinking and memory. It is unsafe for people with serious thinking or memory problems to drive.
4) The doctor will also want ask you or other family members about your father’s driving. He or she will want to know if the person has gotten lost when driving on a familiar route or has had any near-accidents, or accidents.
There are certain things that can keep a person from driving for a short period of time. They include:
- A heart attack
- A stroke
- A seizure (fits)
- Getting a device called an ‘implantable cardioverter-defibrillator’
After any of these things happenning, the affected person will need to wait a certain amount of time before they can drive again. For example, people who have a seizure, need to be seizure-free for a certain amount of time before they can drive again. In some cases, people might need their doctor’s permission before they drive again.
If it is decided that your father should stop driving, but won’t?
You can try:
- Hiding the car keys.
- Taking the battery out of the car so it won’t start.
- Make plans for someone else to do the driving, and let him try it so he sees it is not so bad.
- Ask the doctor to write a prescription saying he should not drive.
- Work with a social worker to get help with the situation.
It is not an easy situation that you are in and it may take the help of other family members as well as outside help, to keep your father safe on the road.