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October 14, 2011 > Driving While 80

Driving While 80

By Angela Szeto

Navigating Russian Hill in San Francisco and finding parking is hard enough if you're a millennial driving a VW Bug, but imagine what it's like if you're 80 and trying to parallel park uphill!

Everyone ages differently so there's not an arbitrary cutoff point for when a person should stop driving. However, studies show that the rate of fatal accidents increases for drivers above the age of 70. So, how do we talk to our parents about their driving? It's definitely more difficult than trying to borrow the car keys when we were 16 years old. We all equate the act of driving to being free and independent. In talking with our parents about driving, we need to be respectful and understand that this is a transition for all parties involved.

First and foremost is to approach your parents before driving becomes a concern. Talk with them about how aging affects driving and the steps that they should take to maintain safe driving practices. Have a checklist available that encourages open discussions about:

1) Yearly vision tests
2) Annual hearing tests
3) Effects of medication
4) Changes in their range of motion and strength during driving
5) Memory concerns
6) Driving the right car
7) Buying the right products for your car, i.e., bigger rearview mirror (check out (
8) Alternatives to driving, i.e., offer rides, pay for public/private transportation.

It also helps for our parents to hear input from different impartial parties (including siblings, friends, doctors, etc.) regarding best driving practices. Talking with parents about the cost saving techniques on not owning a car (insurance/tax/parking rates) is another option.

If you need to discourage your parents from driving, borrow their car when yours is in the shop. During that time, encourage them to use alternative transportation (Muni, BART, or private drivers) and discuss their experience with them.

Should your parents still insist on driving, you can actually request your local DMV to help by administering a driving test for them due to a report that they were driving erratically on the street. Be prepared with constructive solutions to their objections. Remember that this represents a loss of independence for them and like any other transition they will need time to adjust.

By Angela Szeto, geriatric care specialist with Home Care Assistance in San Francisco. Angela can be reached at

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