Q. How do I find out if it’s safe for an elderly relative to drive?
A. Most of us will outlive our ability to drive, but that time is different for different people. “Age alone never determines if someone is safe to drive or not,” says Lissa Kapust, the director of the DriveWise program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
If you need help determining whether a parent or older relative is still able to drive, several resources are available. Raising your concerns with a family physician can be a good place to start. The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles gives competency road tests, and driving schools offer driving skills evaluations to elderly drivers. More comprehensive clinical assessment programs are available at many hospitals and clinics. In the DriveWise program, for instance, an occupational therapist evaluates driving-related skills including reaction times and cognitive functions important for driving such as attention and judgment. The program looks at medical conditions that can interfere with driving, as well as health issues such as sleep deprivation or medications that cause drowsiness. Clinical social workers also meet with the driver and family members to deal with the psychological and social aspects of driving, and the loss of self-esteem that comes with giving up the car keys.
In some cases, older drivers can learn to improve their safety through self-monitoring, building driving skills, and adjusting their habits. You can access online assessments and seminars as well as in-person driving improvement classes through AARP and AAA.