Best Way To Talk About Driving Safety

Best Way To Talk About Driving Safety

Starting the Driving Conversation

Driving can give people more freedom and control over their lives. Older drivers who are facing driving difficulties or safety concerns might worry about losing their independence.

Having driving conversations early allows you and the older adult to focus on avoiding problems and making things better. Discussing the older adult's preferences and feelings about driving will help you work together, if there are concerns. Before you talk with the older adult, ask yourself:

  • What are my specific concerns about the older adult's driving?
  • What have I seen or heard that makes me have these concerns?
  • What don't I know? What assumptions might I be making?
  • Am I trying to convince the older adult to do what I think is best? Am I open to other possibilities?

Set a small goal for your first conversation. Your goal could be finding out about the older adult's driving experiences, or learning whether the older adult has changed driving habits to stay safe. Good ways to start driving conversations include sharing facts, asking the older adult about driving preferences, or mentioning friends' or family members' driving experiences. For example:

  • "Many older adults avoid driving at night, because it's more difficult for them to see well in the dark. Do you feel comfortable driving at night?"
  • "Have any of your friends decided to drive less or stop driving? Is it working well for them?"
  • "Did you hear about that car accident on the news? Do you feel safe when you drive?"

Be honest about your reasons for wanting to discuss driving. Acknowledge that the older adult might have different opinions or information that you don't know. Focus on understanding the older adult's point of view. Don't push to make decisions right away. Don't try to cover too much in your first conversation. Try to end on a positive note. If you can, agree on next steps with the older adult, like having another conversation, going for a car ride together or looking into local transportation options.

Discussing Driving Less or Stopping Driving

Driving retirement can be:

  1. Planned in advance: Early conversations can identify transportation alternatives that would work well, if older drivers need or choose to drive less in the future.
  2. Gradual: As older drivers' health, abilities and preferences change, they start driving less or avoid driving under certain conditions to ensure their comfort and safety.
  3. A rapid response to an emergency: An accident, serious incident or clear pattern of increasing driving problems leads older drivers to stop driving completely, perhaps after others get involved.

Having early conversations about driving can encourage the older adult to plan for driving retirement and, if needed, gradually limit driving. Good conversation starters in these situations include sharing driving facts, asking the older adult to share any feelings about or plans for driving, or mentioning friends' or family members' driving experiences.

If you're convinced that the older adult needs to stop driving, make clear how concerned you are. Describe the particular incidents you're responding to, and say how dangerous it could be for the older adult and others if they don't stop driving. For example:

  • "I need your help with what just happened. Can we talk?"
  • "You keep having trouble finding your way to the store and back. What would happen if you got lost driving and couldn't find help?"
  • "This is the third time this month you've had a close call or accident. I'm worried about your safety on the road."
  • "I'm afraid to get in the car with you, or to let your grandchildren ride with you."
  • "I'm concerned that you might be seriously injured in an accident, or even hurt someone else. I know you would feel terrible if something like that happened."

It can help to involve others who the older adult respects and trusts in these conversations. You might be able to get help from health professionals, law enforcement officials or motor vehicle departments. In extreme situations, some people resort to taking away the keys or disabling or removing the car. If you are in this situation, tell the older adult you are only trying to keep them safe and that you will help them find other ways to get around. Acknowledge that the older adult might be angry with you and not trust you for a while. Explain that you would rather have them be upset with you than have them become seriously injured or harm others in an accident.

Focus on improving the older adult's comfort and safety when discussing possible changes to driving. Make sure that the older adult is able to go where they need and want to. Keep in mind:

  • The older adult will have to live with any changes. The changes might impact them more than you or the older adult realize at first.
  • There are often different ways to deal with driving problems. Ask what the older adult thinks will work best.
  • It's hard to be open to unfamiliar changes. Ask if the older adult would like to get more information, ask professionals for advice, or try something for a short time or with a friend.
  • There may be other benefits to making driving changes, like insurance discounts, reduced gas and maintenance costs, or social time while carpooling.

When discussing possible driving changes with the older adult, you might want to:

  • Connect changes to something the older adult said or did: "You said your sleep apnea often makes you feel tired. What do you think about asking others for rides when you feel tired?"
  • Explain why you think changes are a good idea: "I think it's important to have a professional driving evaluation, because professionals know so many ways to make driving safer."
  • Ask if there are alternatives the older adult prefers: "What would you rather do - have your medicines and groceries delivered here, or take the bus downtown?"
  • Ask what friends and family members have done: "How does Julio get around? I know he has vision problems."
  • Looking at or trying out changes: "Do you want to try an online driving course before signing up for an in-person class?"

Talking with Health Professionals About Driving

Health professionals can identify and address health causes of driving problems, explain how conditions and medications can affect driving, suggest resources and help explore options. The older adult or you can ask about driving during a medical appointment. If you want to be part of the discussion, ask the older adult if that's ok. If it is, ask what role the older adult wants you to play during the appointment. Should you write down information, ask questions or support them?

Collecting information beforehand helps health professionals better understand the older adult's situation. For example, is the older adult:

  • Having any problems with medications, health conditions or treatments?
  • Having difficulties driving or noticing changes with driving?
  • Experiencing pain, dizziness, daytime sleepiness or problems with memory or concentration?
  • Noticing physical changes, including problems with vision, balance, weakness or coordination?

General questions to ask health professionals include:

  • "What are the possible reasons why the older adult might have this difficulty with driving?"
  • "Could this driving issue be caused by a medication or health condition?"
  • "Is there a treatment to make these issues go away or get better?"
  • "Are there different treatments or medications for this health issues? Which is least likely to affect driving?"
  • "What can we do to keep this driving issue from becoming worse?"
  • "What can we do to avoid other difficulties with driving?"
  • "Should the older adult see a specialist?"

If the older adult or you have multiple concerns or questions, ask if you can schedule a longer appointment with the health professional. When you make the appointment, tell them you want to discuss driving.

If you want a health professional to help you convince the older adult to drive less or stop driving, ask for the professional's opinion beforehand. They might not agree with you about the older adult's driving abilities.

Many health professionals avoid telling their patients that they can't drive. Health professionals may feel that they don't have enough information to decide about their patients' driving, or may not want to damage their relationship with their patients.

Responding to Negative Reactions During Driving Conversations

No one wants to be in an automobile accident. However, sometimes driving safety discussions can bring up strong emotions. Older adults might be afraid that they might lose their freedom, or feel embarrassed to admit that they're struggling with something they did easily for decades. They might feel like their judgment is being questioned.

During difficult discussions, do your best to calmly and clearly share your thoughts, using phrases like, "I am concerned," "My feelings are," or "In my opinion." Focus on what you can agree on and how you can work together. Listen carefully to the older adult and consider what the older adult says. Remember that what you're talking about might change the older adult's life significantly. You and the older adult might have different ways of speaking or thinking about driving.

Driving discussions can be difficult when:

  • You disagree about whether there are driving issues, or what the issues are.
  • You disagree about what's most important. For example, you might be more concerned about safety, but the older adult might be more concerned about not relying on others for rides.
  • You disagree about what's a good solution.
  • You use or hear words differently. For example, you ask about the dents in the garage, but the older adult hears that you want to take away their keys.
  • You have different communication or decision making styles.
  • You want different people to be involved when you discuss driving.
  • How you respond to each other is shaped by family patterns or social roles.

It can help to make your concerns and goals clear. You might say, "I am not trying to make things difficult for you. I am worried about your safety. Please let me know what I can do." It can help to ask the older adult to explain their objections. Try to understand the older adult's point of view. If the older adult doesn't want to discuss it, don't push. You might need to agree to disagree on some things. The older adult has the right to make decisions. Think about what you can do to accept and support the older adult's choices. It's usually better to drop the subject and discuss it again later. If you understand why the last conversation was difficult, you might be able to find a different way to discuss driving next time.

Keeping the Driving Conversation Going

Your follow-up conversations can help you work with the older adult to make driving more comfortable and safe, explore transportation options or plan for driving retirement. Follow-up conversations can be good opportunities to:

  • Share and discuss new information
  • Weigh the pros and cons of different options
  • Ask if the older adult's preferences or plans have changed since the last time you talked
  • Involve professionals, family or friends whose experiences and opinions you both value

If you and the older adult agreed on next steps during your first conversation, it can be easy to bring up driving again. For example: "Are your car mirrors working better for you now?" or "I found out there are a few driving classes coming up nearby." If the first conversation didn't end with clear plans or on a positive note, there are other ways to begin a follow-up conversation. You might want to:

  • Build on a specific point from the previous discussion: "You said that you don't like to drive on highways. Are you still able to go where you want to? Would you like to get rides from others sometimes?"
  • Discuss a different driving topic: "I know you're not interested in getting a professional driving evaluation, but how would you feel about getting your vision checked?"
  • Try to understand the older adult's point of view: "You said you don't want to take the bus. Why? Do you think it would be a hassle or not go where you want?"
  • Explain why this is important to you: "I know that it seems too early to talk about driving retirement, but it takes a while to figure out other ways to get around."
  • Highlight how other things might affect driving: "I know you have plans to have your cataracts removed. Until then, can I or others give you rides if you need to go somewhere at night?"
  • Space out conversations: "It's been a few weeks since we talked about having your medications reviewed. Do you still think that's a good idea? Do you want me to make an appointment?"

Ask more open-ended questions to encourage the older adult to share their thoughts and opinions. If you ask lots of "leading" questions - like "Wouldn't carpooling with Aunt Chris make more sense?" - it can seem like you're just trying to get them to go along with what you want.

Try to have smaller, more frequent conversations, rather than a few big ones. That gives you and the older adult time to get information and consider options before you discuss driving safety again.

Avoid launching into a driving conversation every time you talk with the older adult. Try to balance the "serious" talk with time spent simply enjoying each other's company.