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Mom Shouldn't Be Driving

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As we age, our reaction times slow. Everyone notices. The examples are easy to come by: The elderly woman driving two miles an hour through the parking lot - or the elderly gentleman driving 40 miles per hour on a freeway with a posted speed limit of 65. And when it's our elderly parents, we worry about their safety.

Seniors with dementia can be particularly dangerous drivers. Confusion and disorientation may occur during the early phases of the disease. This confusion and disorientation is evident in some real life senior dangerous driving examples. Here are some that I've seen:

  • The Sacramento grandmother who forgot how to drive home from the grocery store and drove to San Francisco before asking for help;
  • The elderly farmer, his license long suspended, whose secret joy ride ended up crashing into his neighbor's car - fortunately not causing any bodily injury;
  • The retired attorney, confused by where he was going, stopped in the middle of a busy intersection to get his directions. This one scared his family out of ever driving with him again;
  • The elderly and distinguished businessman who came home with unexplained dents and paint marks all over the side of his car; and
  • Common parking lot crashes with senior explanations of "I don't know what happened."

Seniors are over-represented in certain types of car crashes. At some point in our parents' lives, it might be time for them to "hang up the spurs," or better yet - turn in the keys.

When it comes to trying to get our parents to give up driving, we are torn - we want our elderly parents to have freedom and independence, but we also want them to be safe from harm. Sometimes you can't have your cake and eat it, too.

Some parents strongly resent and resist any effort to take the keys. Adult children might try hiding them - take the car away and explain that it is in the shop - or try other distractions. They don't always work.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles' website states that it wants seniors to maintain their driving independence as long as they can safely drive. The emphasis is on safety - and in this light, the DMV has a process called the Request for Driver Reexamination.

If you know someone who may no longer drive safely, you can submit DMV Form DS 699 to the DMV to have the DMV review the unsafe driver's qualifications. Each request must be signed, but you may request that your name not be reported. Confidentiality is honored.

DMV Form DS 699 is helpful in providing a checklist for identifying the driver's condition as well as a checklist of driver behavior that you have observed. I am familiar with this process and can report that it can be an effective tool to remove unsafe senior drivers from the road.

The DMV will follow up from there and request that the senior come in to the DMV for some additional tests.

An elderly parent's loss of driving privileges, whether voluntary or involuntary, can be emotional for the parent as well as his or her children. It is a reality of aging and also a reality that a child's efforts to ensure a parent's safety are not necessarily met with gratitude or understanding. That said, as our parents once protected us when we could not protect ourselves, and so too are we called upon to return the effort to protect our parents from the dangers of unsafe driving.

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