What to do about an older family member who is no longer driving safely is an emerging problem for a growing number of families. Often the family wants to help but is unable to address the problem. What kind of problems do they have? What prevents families from acting? What kind of help do they want?
A survey was conducted to learn about the problems and needs of families with an unsafe older driver. The survey was open to families and others concerned about an older person who was not driving safely. The survey was part of an overall initiative developed to assist families and caregivers wanting to address an unsafe driving situation.
The statewide survey sample was of 123 respondents (n=123). Participation was voluntary. Each respondent completed a questionnaire providing detailed information about the driver, family concerns, and help they would like to have.
- Respondents to the survey were mostly female (79%), usually a family member or close relative, and living half an hour or less away. Most had jobs and/or other caregiver responsibilities (such as children or another aging family member at home).
- Over 70% reported they had been concerned for a year or more that the older person was not driving safely.
- Of the drivers identified as unsafe, 85% were 75 and older. Over 30% were 85 or older. Over 90% lived in their own home/apartment and almost 75% were alone.
- Most respondents reported their first indications of a safety problem came from watching the driver. Other tip-offs were damage to the car, comments from passengers, and an accident.
- The safety problems most identified by respondents were slow reactions, slow driving, and inattention to other road users and hazards. Almost half were reported as sometimes driving at night, in bad weather, and during rush hours. Almost half reported that the driver’s car had, at least, some minor crash damage.
- Almost 50% indicated the driver was having problems with daily living activities, such as taking care of the household and/or themselves.
- Over 75% felt that the driver had some kind of physical/medical condition which impaired ability to drive safely. Vision, hearing and restricted movement problems were identified by half of the respondents.
- Over 60% felt there was an event in the driver's recent personal history which signaled the decline in driving performance. A recent illness and/or recent hospitalization were most mentioned.
- Some 60% of the survey respondents reported they were unable to discuss the problem with the driver or intervene to prevent driving despite having serious concerns for the driver's safety.
- When asked what most concerned them about taking action now to prevent the person from driving, the most voiced concern (almost 80%), was over taking away the person's independence. Some 60% felt, "It is a hard thing to do to someone you love and care about." Over 50% voiced concern that "the driver will never let me hear the end of it."
- When asked what would be helpful for their situation, alternative transportation was the most identified (79%).
- Over 70% identified help from a physician, such as a letter telling the person not to drive and/or the physician reporting the person to DMV.
- Similarly, support was almost equally voiced for two kinds of driving tests: a DMV driving test and a non-DMV driving evaluation, such as provided by an occupational therapist-driver rehabilitation specialist. The latter test would provide a detailed evaluation but without the threat of immediate loss of license if the person did not pass.
- Over 70% reported their next step would be to "talk about the problem with family."
The Survey of Families and Caregivers Concerned About the Safety of an Older Driver is part of the Older Driver Family Assistance Project. The project was funded by the New York State Governor's Traffic Safety Committee and supported by the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles, State Police, and the Allstate Insurance Foundation.