Are You Still Safe to Drive? Is surely one of the most difficult conversations to have with an elderly relative? Here are some things to consider.
The statistics show that people over 80 are as likely to be the cause of or the casualty in a road traffic accident as people in their early 20’s. We know how important being able to keep driving is for an older person – not only for their dignity and independence but because often it is the only way they can actually travel to the places they need to go or they will become prisoners in their homes. We can understand how resistant people are to have the conversation about this but what often happens is that this delay leads to a crisis – a crisis that curtails an innocent life!
We ran a project a couple of years ago with Police Scotland and we founds that having the conversation and offering solutions can be a positive. We designed a questionnaire purely designed to help you or a loved one think about the changes you may want to make to help you drive safer for longer. The questionnaire asks
- Do you feel confident that you are a sage driver?
- Can you turn your head in both directions to see any blind spot?
- Can you perform an emergency stop?
- Do your eyes adjust well to changing levels of darkness/brightness?
- Do you have your car maintained and checked at regular intervals?
- Do you feel sufficiently alert to process all the road information around you and make good decisions
There are a list of 15 recommendations on the back but if I was to highlight one of the most important changes it would be the benefit of strength and balancing exercises such as OTAGO.
People who attend our classes report measurable improvement in their ability to turn their neck and this has made them much more confident that they can see traffic and pedestrians around them. Our members report that the exercises have helped improve their leg strength and they feel much more able to brake robustly when needed and even helps with clutch control. The improvement in their mobility generally also means they have more options about where to park because they no longer need to be as close to a door as before. However the biggest gain is that the regular exercise has a huge benefit on their concentration and alertness. You can find the full questionnaire by following this link. There is also one for helping pedestrians stay safer.
There does however often come a time when it is not safe for an older person to continue driving and this can provoke very negative grief reactions. There is no magic wand but the more preparation people make for this time and the more emotional and practical support they are given can have a positive impact. Here is a link to a guide that may help https://ilcuk.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Successfully-giving-up-driving-for-older-people.pdf
Lastly I need to mention taxis! Our frustration knows no bounds when older people opt to sit at home rather than pay a few pounds (in urban areas) for a taxi instead of coming out to a life enhancing social opportunity. The barriers are often not financial[i] but the perception of it being an extravagance, the anxiety of who the driver will be or just a dogged belief that this is not an option that applies to them. If I could urge families to work on 2 lifestyle changes above all others they would be breaking up your sitting every hour every day and if you can’t walk to get out, or if you don’t feel able to get the bus anymore and if no one is able to give you a lift then DON’T become a Prisoner for the Price of a Taxi.
[i] We fully recognise the much wider issues around transport and access to affordable, sustainable and safe transport. We work in partnership with Police Scotland on a Travelling with Confidence campaign, contributors to the Alliance response to the National Transport Strategy 2019. We work with Community Transport Association Scotland and Living Street. It is not our intention to under estimate the challenges many people face physically or financially however this blog is written to highlight that for many older people and their relatives these are choices they may like to consider.