Should mom or dad be driving? What you can do
The privilege of driving -- and it is a privilege, not a right -- should be based on physical and mental capacity and not simply age. There are plenty of 90-year-olds who do fine behind the wheel.
But the average age at which Americans stop driving is around 85 -- and even if they don't stop, it's time to start planning for a life without wheels. As the child of an elder parent, you may be dreading this conversation with mom or dad because it's hard to convince someone you care about to give up the independence that comes with having a driver's license. However, it may save your loved one's life -- or someone else's.
In Illinois, older drivers are subject to certain restrictions:
• Drivers age 75 and older may not renew their licenses by mail
• Those ages 81 through 86 must renew their licenses every two years.
• Drivers age 87 and older must renew their licenses every year.
• Vision tests are required at every renewal, or the driver can provide an eye doctor's evaluation of their vision.
A temporary law signed into effect in December raised the age for annual driving tests from 75 to 79. The effects will be studied by the Secretary of State before it's decided whether to make the change permanent. The temporary law expires in October of this year.
So what can you do if you think mom or dad should be off the road? Here are some rules of the road.
Evaluate their driving routines. Do they only go to familiar places in the daytime? Do they stay off the expressways? If they aren't driving much and only to places they know, perhaps that's a reason to let them drive a little longer.
Let them drive you somewhere. Are they using their signals, not braking heavily or having close calls, obeying speed limits and signs and turning their heads to check their blind spots? If you find yourself hitting the "imaginary brake" on the passenger side, it may be time to take action.
Encourage them to take a safety course. Safe-driving classes for seniors are offered by AARP and the Illinois Secretary of State, which runs Rules of the Road refreshers at senior centers around the region. Check the schedule at www.ilsos.gov/services/services_for_seniors. Recent safe-driving classes may reduce their insurance rates.
If you have concerns, talk to your parent's doctor (assuming you have their permission to do so). An Illinois law mandates that doctors must inform patients of their responsibility to notify the Secretary of State of any medical conditions that may affect their abilities to drive safely within 10 days of becoming aware of those conditions. Drivers who are required to report their medical conditions must also complete a medical report form every time they renew their licenses.
Their eye doctor may also recommend restrictions, such as driving only during the day.
Does your parent have dementia? A diagnosis of dementia doesn't mean someone has to stop driving immediately, but have the "it's time to stop driving" conversation early, before there's an accident because they can't appreciate the seriousness of their condition.
Is it time? What to do
When you believe it's time for them to hang up the keys, here are a few tips for having a successful conversation.
Talk one-on-one. If mom or dad doesn't feel like the family's ganging up on them, they may be more open to listening.
Have the facts. Simply asserting "you're not a safe driver anymore" is likely to be met with denial and resistance. This is where the knowledge you gain by riding with them will help.
Make the alternatives sound attractive. Just think of the money they'll save by not having to maintain a car, buy gas and pay for car insurance! You can show them how easy it is to use Uber or Lyft and investigate other transportation options -- including you.
Finally, put yourself in your mom or dad's shoes. How would you want your children to talk to you about your driving?
Senior drivers, take note
I've addressed this article mostly to children of senior drivers, but this message is for those seniors: Ask your child to let you know when they think you're no longer able to drive safely. This makes it your decision, and it shifts the burden of "the conversation" from them to you -- where it really belongs.
• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates (www.NorthShoreRN.com). Her new book, "How to Be a Healthcare Advocate for Yourself & Your Loved Ones," is now available on Amazon. She is offering a free phone consultation to Daily Herald readers; call her at (847) 612-6684.