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Older Driver “Red Flags”


Driving is freedom.  Pure freedom.  Many people dread the day when they are no longer able to drive- or when someone else tells them that they should no longer drive.  It is one of the most difficult conversations to have with an independent, aging adult.  Here are some of the behind-the-wheel warning signs that may indicate that driving is becoming unsafe.

  1. Getting lost– particularly in familiar areas.  Navigation errors and an expressed sense of “this looks different” may be clues that something is amiss.  And needing constant instructions from a passenger (co-piloting) is not a safe way to travel.
  2. Having difficulty maintaining lane position– This usually correlates with decreased divided attention.  Divided attention, being able to pay attention to more than one thing at a time, is one of the most important driving skills.  Driving requires you to be aware of your entire surroundings (people, cars, traffic signs, environmental barriers, speed, radio…) and maintain control of the car.  Weaving may indicate that the person does not have good divided attention skills.
  3. Driving excessively slowly– (or feeling like others drive too fast).  This also usually correlates with decreased divided attention and decreased processing speed.  Drivers tend to slow down if they have difficulty attending to happenings in the driving environment.
  4. Being nervous about or having difficulty at busy intersections, merging, yielding, or unprotected left hand turns– Correlates with diminished attention and processing speed as well.
  5. Having trouble processing sign information quickly enough to respond– while this could be related to vision, it can also be related to attention and processing speed.
  6. Having trouble driving at night– Driving at night is much more demanding on your attention than daytime driving because you need to be use extra attention to “get your bearings” when it is dark.
  7. Friends and family express concerns about your driving or people will no longer accept rides from you– an objective driving evaluation will dictate whether other people’s perceptions are unfounded or not.
  8. There has been an increased number of traffic violations, accidents, near misses, or unexplained “dings” on your car.
  9. Other drivers often honk at you.
  10. Driving makes you feel stressed or exhausted. Actively recruiting brain power for attention is hard work.

Here are some other “red flags” that correlate with safety behind-the-wheel  as they require the same higher cognitive function that driving requires:

  1. Difficulty managing medications
  2. Difficulty managing finances
  3. Difficulty managing schedules and appointment

What can you do if you are noticing these warning signs?

  • Speak to your doctor about any functional task that has become more difficult, including driving
  • Obtain a comprehensive behind-the-wheel evaluation
    • Clinical testing of driving related vision, cognition, reaction time
    • A behind-the-wheel evaluation of driving performance
  • Begin to explore alternative transportation options

*source: The Physician’s Guide to Counseling and Assessing Older Drivers

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