How to make getting around safer for elderly drivers

Do you worry about mom driving the car with glaucoma? Do you worry that dad will forget where he’s going and panic? Driving is a sign of independence, and it’s usually the most convenient and reliable way to get around. But, as the risk of vehicle accidents increases with a driver’s age, you may need to take away your loved one’s car keys.

A new study by found that some states are more dangerous than others when it comes to driving, depending on several factors:

  • Lax driving laws for older adults. According to the study, over half of the most dangerous states are among those without elderly driving laws. Some of these laws include more frequent renewals, in-person renewal requirements, vision tests, and road tests. States that do not have any of these provisions often see a higher accident rate for elderly drivers than states with one or more of these laws.
  • Population density and weather conditions. Larger populations bring about more cars on the roadways and increased risk for accidents. Also, trickier driving conditions such as rain, snow, sleet, and other factors contribute to more crashes in these areas. For example, Maine implemented more frequent vision tests for drivers over 40, however, they are still number two on the list.
  • Lack of public transportation options. If driving is the only reliable method of transportation for seniors, the number of elderly drivers will increase. However, New York ranks number four on the list. According to, this is likely because even though New York City has a mass transit system, other parts of the state do not, likely leading to the high number of fatalities.


What can caregivers for elderly loved ones do?


When it’s time to take away the car keys, make sure that your loved one feels reassured that the end of driving does not mean the end of independence. Here a few suggestions to make the transition go more smoothly.

Talk to Mom and Dad. At some point, you will most likely need to have a conversation with your loved one about not driving anymore. But these conversations are tough, and many put the task off until it is too late. “Talking to Mom or Dad about giving up the keys can sometimes be a very difficult, very emotional conversation,” said Matt Hueffner, executive director Palm Terrace Healthcare and Rehab Center. “I’d recommended showing as much love as you can, doing everything to make sure they understand that you are not trying to deprive them of their independence, but that you truly care for their wellbeing.”

Get your facility to foot the bill. If your loved one is in a long-term care facility, check to see if there are any transportation options available. “We have our own van that we take residents around in to go to community outing,” said Nic Orrison, activities director at Rainier Rehabilitation. “When our van is not available we set up shuttle transit and offer free bus tickets for our residents.”

Advocate for services. Beyond protecting elderly drivers on an individual level, it’s important to advocate for city, county, and state services that keep seniors safe. Programs such as ridesharing and public transportation are important for seniors to maintain independence, and advocating for adequate funding will help keep them alive.


Amy Osmond Cook, who wrote this article, is executive director of the Association of Skilled Nursing Providers.