When you ride along with an older driver to look for signs of poor driving, keep in mind it doesn’t necessarily mean the person should not drive. Often, poor driving behaviors can be improved with training or by addressing an underlying medical condition that affects driving. A trained medical professional can help identify treatment options that may help improve – not limit – safe driving ability.
Here are common warning signs:
- Does the senior driver confuse the gas and brake pedals or have difficulty working them? Drivers who lift their legs to move from the accelerator to the brake, rather than keeping a heel on the floor and pressing with the toes, may be signaling waning leg strength.
- Does the senior driver seem to ignore or miss stop signs and other traffic signals? Perhaps the driver is inattentive or cannot spot the signs in a crowded, constantly moving visual field.
- Does the senior driver weave between or straddle lanes? Signaling incorrectly or not at all when changing lanes can be particularly dangerous, especially if the driver fails to check mirrors or blind spots.
- Do other senior drivers honk or pass frequently, even when the traffic stream is moving relatively slowly? This may indicate difficulty keeping pace with fast-changing conditions.
- Does the senior driver get lost or disoriented easily, even in familiar places? This could indicate problems with working memory or early cognitive decline.
If you ride with a driver who exhibits one or more of the warning signs, consider discussing the benefits of getting a comprehensive driving assessment to help identify and address any risky driving behaviors and maximize safe driving.
Most people know when their driving skills and abilities aren’t as sharp as they used to be. Two of the most common coping mechanisms used by unsafe senior drivers include:
- Using a “copilot” to help respond to situations in the driving environment. Anyone who cannot drive safely and comfortably without a copilot should not drive at all.
- Driving too slow or too fast for conditions. Driving too slow can be a sign that the driver is compensating for slowed reflexes or reduced reaction time. Those who drive too fast may not realize how fast they are traveling or be overcompensating due to a fear of being noticed for driving too slowly.
Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration