With the number of drivers 70 and older increasing — and one in five Americans caring for an older loved one — the number of adults dealing with concerns about their parents' driving abilities is on the rise. In fact, according to a new survey from The Hartford and MIT AgeLab, almost 1 in 10 adults are worried about an older family member's driving.
To help families prepare for and initiate thoughtful conversations with older drivers, AARP, The Hartford and MIT AgeLab teamed up to produce "We Need to Talk," a free online course that equips family members with information about the emotional connection to driving, observing driving skills and planning the conversation.
"We understand that talking to a parent about their driving can be very difficult," said Jodi Olshevski, gerontologist at The Hartford. "If you're worried, you should find out if your concerns are valid. Learn the warning signs, get in the car and observe the older driver. Once you get the facts and educate yourself about the resources available, you will be in a better position to help."
The new survey also found that:
• Adults 40-49 are the age group most concerned about an older family member's driving.
• Of those concerned, more than 33 percent have not shared their concerns with the older driver.
• The primary reasons cited for not having the conversation are:
* Concern that the older driver will have a negative reaction (53 percent).
* Unsure of how to raise the issue (43 percent).
* Unsure of transportation alternatives (20 percent).
"Taking time to prepare can alleviate these concerns and help initiate a thoughtful, positive conversation," said Julie Lee, director of AARP's Driver Safety Program. "‘We Need to Talk' helps families think through who the right messenger is, when the right time to talk might be and provides some conversation starters. It also covers how to design a transportation plan that provides the driver with alternatives for getting around."
Driving behavior warning signs vary. Some of the less serious issues may be overcome with changes in driving behavior or physical fitness, while the more serious behaviors may require immediate action. "Making a single minor driving mistake doesn't mean that a person needs to stop driving," said Lisa D'Ambrosio, Ph.D., research scientist at MIT AgeLab. "What families need to do is look for patterns of warning signs and for an increase in frequency and severity of the warning signs."
20 warning signs ranked from minor to serious
• Decrease in confidence while driving
• Difficulty turning to see when backing up
• Easily distracted while driving
• Other drivers often honk horns
• Hitting curbs
• Scrapes or dents on the car, mailbox or garage
• Increased agitation or irritation when driving
• Failure to notice traffic signs or important activity on the side of the road
• Trouble navigating turns
• Driving at inappropriate speeds
• Uses a "copilot"
• Bad judgment making left turns
• Delayed response to unexpected situations
• Moving into wrong lane or difficulty maintaining lane position
• Confusion at exits
• Ticketed moving violations or warnings
• Getting lost in familiar places
• Car accident
• Failure to stop at stop sign or red light
• Stopping in traffic for no apparent reason