Most families are reluctant to have the driving conversation as parents get older.
When we were growing up, it pained Dad to have to give us the car keys, because he knew how we drove as teenagers and knew that we didn't always make the right decision while driving or pay enough attention. Forget about getting his luxury sedan. It was either the station wagon or some other beater.
Now it's our time to worry ourselves sick, in a major role reversal that's all part of the senior care of our parents. It's a conversation many of us are afraid to have with our elderly folks, even though senior drivers can be a danger -- to themselves or others.
But the harsh reality is that if we don't have "the talk" with Mom and Dad about when it's time to hand over their keys, they may injure or kill themselves or others on the road.
And it's time to take action -- now. Over the past year, 14 million Americans have been in an accident that was caused by an elderly person driving, according to the latest senior driving data. The victims are millennials and those drivers in their 30s.
And the problem isn't going away, says Andy Cohen, CEO of Caring.com, a resource for the elderly that's tracking the driving of older Americans. He says he was surprised at the large number of accidents so far and how it will most likely increase. So based on senior driving tips, it's time to consider the option of ending their driving for good.
"With this being the fastest-growing segment of the population, with those drivers 85-plus expected to double over the next 10 years, we feel it's going to be a real issue," Cohen says. "We don't know how many of these are fatal, but there have been a number of incidents where seniors have plowed into crowds by hitting the gas instead of the break. There was one in Santa Monica a couple of years ago and one in Woodside, California last year."
In 2003, an 86-year-old man drove through the Santa Monica Farmer's Market and killed 10 people, including a 3-year-old girl. Nearly 50 people were hospitalized. The driver hit the gas instead of the brake.
Those kinds of incidents can happen again, and it's up to children, and grandchildren in some cases, to do something about it.
The numbers don't break down the accidents between men and women, and Cohen says it's difficult to pigeonhole anyone based on age. Some people in their 90s could be great drivers, and someone in their 70s could be a terrible driver. The key is monitoring Mom and Dad and being aware of unexplained dents and accidents.
The problem is that a lot of older Americans don't want to give up their keys, and their children are reluctant to do anything about, it.
"Nobody wants to have this conversation," Cohen says. "Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news that mom or dad shouldn't be driving. This is a nation that relies on driving. Most people have grown up not taking transportation but using their car. It's freedom and independence. Giving that up is really hard."
A previous Caring.com and National Safety Council survey showed that 40 percent of Americans say they're not comfortable speaking to their parents about driving and would rather discuss funeral arrangements or selling their home, Cohen says.
In terms of who should determine whether an elderly driver is no longer fit to drive, Americans are split between a doctor/caretaker (29 percent), family (25 percent) and the DMV or government (23 percent). Just 16 percent percent of Americans think the driver should make the decision for themselves.
Older drivers are most likely to prefer their family (30 percent) to determine whether or not they should drive. Other options favored by them include themselves (26 percent) and their doctor/caretaker (21 percent). The least favored option among elderly drivers is the DMV/government (10 percent), he says.
"Seniors are looking to doctors, and families are looking to doctors and law enforcement, but we know doctors don't want to get into it and law enforcement doesn't either. It really comes down to families to start having these hard conservations to figure out what the alternatives are."
There are options other than getting Mom and Dad to give up their keys at first. First, read up on senior driving tips as much as you can. Then, preventing them from driving at night can help because of the difficulty of seeing, or keeping them from using the highway, Cohen says. Sometimes, getting a newer model car with more safety features, like a rear-view camera to prevent accidents can help, he says.
There are options for aging drivers such as para-transit, and there are ride-sharing services as well. Housing for the elderly also provides transportation options, Cohen says.
"There are options," Cohen says, "so come to the conversation ready to discuss those options."
State driving laws vary, with some requiring an annual eye exam and driving tests and others requiring just an eye exam every five years, Cohen says. States should do more frequent driving tests, but it's not popular politically.