Driving is a symbol of independence and a deeply-engrained way of life for most adults. Unfortunately, old age may sometimes cause their driving skills to become worse, as their vision, hearing, alertness, reaction time, or decision-making abilities diminish. For their own safety and that of those around them, they may need to limit their driving, such as:
- only drive during daylight hours,
- avoid high traffic roads or freeways,
- stay close to familiar places, or
- stop driving altogether.
Of course, this is not an easy transition to make—the elderly may dread this loss of their independence. What if they refuse to limit their driving?
If reasoning is not working, how do we protect our elderly loved ones (and those around them) who may be unsafe to drive? It may not be as simple as taking away their keys. They still have needs that need to be met and dignity that should be respected. Here are a few approaches to consider:
Driving is a privilege that can expire or be taken away. In Arizona, drivers over the age of 65 must pass a vision test every five years to renew their license.
Elderly adults typically don’t want to be a burden on their loved ones. They don’t have to be a burden if they can tap into resources in the community to help them meet their needs, such as transportation, groceries, prescriptions, appointments, etc. Not familiar with the resources available? Geriatric care managers or even local senior centers can help them find and coordinate resources that can meet their needs—their whole mission is to help the elderly safely age in place and manage chronic conditions.
Report an Unsafe Elderly Driver to their physician or to the Motor Vehicle Department
You can let someone else be the “bad guy”. Your loved one may be more receptive to their medical providers determining their driving abilities. Given your loved one’s physical or mental limitations, their doctor may recommend they not drive or limit their driving. When sometimes the doctor’s advice or your own heart-felt pleadings are ignored, anyone can anonymously report an unsafe driver to the Motor Vehicle Department for a medical review, which can result in suspension of their license.
Car is “in the shop” (Out of Sight, Out of Mind)
You might park their car somewhere else and say what it takes to distract them, such as the car is still “in the shop.” Or, for 100% honesty, if your mechanic allows it, maybe you could literally leave their vehicle parked at the shop. Again, if their needs are otherwise being met, your elderly loved one may not notice the absence of their vehicle as much.
Disable their Vehicle
You might disable their vehicle—disconnecting the battery may be a simple approach. There may be a number of other ways of accomplishing this—ask a mechanic!
A guardianship would be a last resort to protect an unsafe elderly driver, after all else has failed. As part of the guardianship proceeding, the court will suspend their driving privileges. The person you are attempting to protect must have a condition that affects their ability to make responsible decisions in general, with medical evidence to support that claim. This is not the same as someone just making bad decisions—legally you can’t stop a grown adult from their poor judgment. And this is a complex and expensive alternative that typically extends beyond just driving.
Can you stop an unsafe driver if you are their appointed agent under a Power of Attorney? Probably not. While POAs may allow you to help your loved ones, you legally can’t stop them from making poor decisions. The police also may not be helpful for the same reason.
Driving is a sensitive but serious subject for many elderly adults. Unfortunately, sometimes we must take drastic measures to protect them from themselves. If you have concerns, contact our experienced attorneys to discuss how you can protect your aging loved ones who are dangerous behind the wheel.