When it is Time to Take the Car Keys Away: The Advance Driving Directive

Fredericksburg Elder Law Evan H. Farr, CELA

It is often difficult to talk to an elderly family member about giving up his or her car keys — especially if the older person doesn’t agree that continuing to drive will be risky.  Often, families are making the tough choice between safety and independence on their own.

For senior citizens, the fear that they may have to stop driving for good is almost too much to bear. The culture that we live in is built on mobility. Families often live at a great distance and friends are scattered and may have their own physical challenges to deal with. A driver’s license signifies more than the ability to drive a car; it is a symbol of freedom and self-sufficiency. For a senior citizen, the loss of the ability to drive may feel like being trapped, isolated, and alone. Understandably, driving is not a privilege that older Americans typically want to relinquish willingly. Still, safety must come first.

To decide whether driving is safe, loved ones and medical professionals need to monitor seniors and keep the following three aspects in mind: life and health (older drivers are more likely to be seriously injured or killed in a car accident), the safety of others (including family passengers, pedestrians and other drivers), and the potential financial liability of a serious accident that damages property and/or destroys lives.

Factors that warrant monitoring and possible driving cessation or other alternatives include:

  • Health Conditions: Physical and mental impairments that accompany aging, such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, can compromise driving agility and judgment.
  • Vision Impairment: From accurately reading the speedometer to detecting pedestrians on the side of the road, good driving requires good eyesight. Deterioration in vision is an inevitable effect of aging. Older eyes are more susceptible to cataracts, glaucoma, and other problems that impair vision.
  • Hearing Impairment: Few people age without some deterioration in their hearing. Hearing loss can happen gradually, without the person realizing it, and undermine the ability to hear horns, screeching tires, sirens, and other sounds that would normally put someone on high alert.
  • Prescription Drug Use and Drug Interactions: Many drugs can compromise driving ability by causing drowsiness, blurred vision, confusion, tremors, or other side effects.
  • Problems with reflexes and range of motion: Sometimes older drivers who have problems with reflexes or range of motion are not able to react quickly enough to brake suddenly or quickly look back.  Sometimes older drivers also confuse the gas and brake pedals, finding themselves getting flustered while driving, or quick to anger.
  • Memory Loss: Memory loss can impact driving if the driver misses exits that used to be second nature or gets lost frequently.
  • Alcohol Abuse: Drinking and driving is always a dangerous combination. As people age, alcohol remains in the system longer and tolerance declines. Also, elderly folks are likely to be on medication, which can exacerbate the effects of alcohol. If you drink, don’t drive. If you suspect that your family member is drinking and driving, don’t wait to take action.

A study that was recently cited in an Associated Press article found that when doctors warn patients that they may be medically unfit to be on the road, there is a drop in serious crash injuries among those drivers, so if you or a loved one is experiencing any of the factors above, be sure to consult with a doctor. Read our recent blog post about this topic for more details.

What happens when you are the person who should no longer be driving and the time has come for you to hand over your keys? Which loved one would you want to broach this important subject with you? Now, as part of your incapacity planning documents, you can indicate who you would trust to help you if you could no longer drive safely. Our firm can help you draw up an Advance Driving Directive to name the person that you want to initiate the discussion with you about continued driving (or not) when the time is right. Or you can use this one provided by the American Automobile Association.

Unlike an Advance Medical Directive, which transfers decision making about medical decisions to the agent at the appropriate time, an Advance Driving Directive does not appoint someone to make the “stop driving decision” for the driver. Rather, it’s about naming whom you would like to have broach this touchy subject with you.

Planning in advance for cessation of driving or other alternatives can help keep you and others safe on the road, so be sure to incorporate an Advance Driving Directive as part of your planning. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Estate Planning Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. at 703-691-1888 to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.

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