Road safety: When it’s unsafe for an older person to be driving

Some older adults can drive safely in their 80s and even early 90s. But road safety and individual safety is impacted when seniors begin to develop hearing, vision, and physical limitations. Driving competence is more than just being able to control a car physically. Safe driving requires a combination of physical and cognitive ability and driving skills, and proper driving conduct.

As we advance in age, natural changes happen in our minds and bodies, and these changes might restrict or prevent us from driving. Some European countries require that drivers over 70 years of age prove their fitness every three years, however in South Africa there is currently no legislation preventing older people from driving.

“Observing a loved one's driving and watching for warning signs of risky driving is an important first step in deciding whether it's time to talk to them about surrendering their keys and driving license,” says Barend Smit, Marketing Director of MotorHappy, a supplier of motor management solutions and car insurance options.

One sign of cognitive decline in an elderly driver is getting lost even on routes they travel often. This might happen because of mental exhaustion and disorientation. Another sign is not coming to a stop at stop signs or red lights, again because mental exhaustion and disorientation might prevent the driver from recognising these signs.

If the elderly driver has difficulty staying in their lane, has trouble judging distances and is driving too quickly or too slowly there is a higher risk of collisions and vehicle damage.

“If you notice that your loved one is exhibiting some of these warning signals, it's essential to talk to them, keeping in mind that this might be a complicated and stressful topic,” advises Smit.

Below are some tips for a successful discussion:

  1. Schedule a one-on-one conversation. Including too many people in the conversation can result in chaos and tension. Instead, select one person who you believe will be receptive to hearing and assisting the senior driver in choosing the best course of action.
  2. Concentrate on road safety. The primary focus of the talk is driving safely and avoiding a collision that might result in injury or death. Remembering that safety comes first will help the parties involved avoid any downsides that may arise throughout the chat.
  3. Discuss self-reliance/ independence. Surrendering a license may appear to be a loss of independence. Discuss alternate transportation choices that will allow the senior driver to keep some amount of personal independence.
  4. Demonstrate your support. Before making a choice, it's critical to show compassion for your loved one. Listening to the person and being empathetic to their problems can assist you in finding an effective solution.

Once the elderly person in your life has decided about driving, remember to alert the car insurance provider. “Vehicle insurance has evolved significantly in recent years. Many insurance offerings now include lower premiums for people who drive less frequently. This insurance package might make sense for an elderly person who doesn’t drive too often, since most elderly people also tend to choose to take their drives outside of rush hour. It’s worthwhile investigating the different options available,” concludes Smit.