Driving Safety—when to take the keys away
Driving is among a person’s first signs of independence as an adult. As far as some are concerned, it is almost an inalienable right. That explains why, although necessary, taking away the freedom to drive due to impaired abilities is a step that’s often strenuously resisted by people with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.
Driving requires both physical and mental skills; for people with dementia, those abilities will degrade over time and make driving increasingly dangerous. Since the changes in driving ability occur gradually, they often aren’t noticed, especially if the driver is making short daytime trips on familiar routes. When longer distances or unfamiliar locations are attempted, especially in darkness or inclement weather, a person’s driving deficits can become more obvious. And more perilous.
How should you respond?
Safety must always come first. If you suspect impaired driving ability in a person, try to get them to agree to a driving test to professionally assess their skills. Because driving is so connected to a person’s sense of independence, you will need to handle this discussion carefully to avoid a potential argument. But be firm and insistent. Make sure the person knows you are looking out for their safety. It’s also important to help them determine alternative modes of transportation so they can maintain their regular outings and social life for as long as possible.
Here are some of the warning signs of impaired driving ability. If you notice any of these happening, take immediate action to keep the person with dementia from operating a vehicle.
Missed or delayed responses to traffic lights or signs
Disregard for yield or right of way
Disregard for common traffic rules
Poor estimation of distance
Confused reaction to common driving situations (4-way stop, construction, etc.)
Poor awareness of their surroundings
Slow reaction times
Getting lost while driving
Involvement in minor “fender bender” accidents, either in traffic or when parking
People are afraid to ride with the person