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Steering older drivers towards end of road

PUBLISHED: 12:34 17 January 2016

We all hope to drive as long as possible but there comes a time when some drivers are no longer safe.

We all hope to drive as long as possible but there comes a time when some drivers are no longer safe.

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We’d like to think we can drive forever but there comes a time for many drivers when their skills are going over the hill. Motoring editor Andy Russell looks at some help available to older drivers and tips of how to approach the end of the road.

Look out for warning signs

Family members are being urged to be wise to the early signs of unsafe driving in their senior relatives.

There are more than four million drivers aged over 70 in the UK, including one million over 80. Many are still driving in their 90s, and nearly 200 centenarians still hold licences.

David Williams, chief executive of road safety and breakdown cover specialist GEM Motoring Assist, said: “Warning signs relating to failing health or reduced ability can develop slowly and gradually in older drivers. This often means they won’t be aware of their changing actions or the growing risks they may pose to themselves and to others.”

GEM suggests the following signs that suggest a high risk of danger with a requirement for immediate action:

‘Close calls’ – or ‘oops factor’ moments where a crash almost happens.

Dents and scrapes on the car as a result of hitting fences, posts or kerbs.

Traffic penalty tickets, such as speeding and red traffic light violations.

GEM also advises family members and friends to look out for the following common signs that could indicate an increase in the risks posed by a senior driver. Most are minor on their own, but can combine to present a significantly increased risk:

Difficulty seeing traffic lights and road signs.

Reduced awareness of drivers coming from the side or the rear.

Not reacting to an approaching emergency siren.

Slow reaction when required to brake or alter direction suddenly.

Confusing the accelerator and brake pedals.

Erratic decision-making.

Getting flustered or angry over minor matters.

Difficulty looking over shoulders to check before pulling out.

Missing familiar exits or turnings.

Drifting in and out of lanes on motorways and dual carriageways.

Failing to indicate correctly or at all.

Failing to cancel an indicator.

GEM’s resource, Still Safe to Drive, gives a range of practical advice to help senior drivers stay as safe as possible for as long as possible. Visit www.stillsafetodrive.org.uk

Telling an elderly relative or close friend that their driving has come to the end of the road is one of the most difficult conversations you can have.

They will probably have been driving for most of their life and see it as a vital part of leading an independent life. For many older people giving up seems like the beginning of the end. And it’s even harder for those living in rural areas where public transport is not so readily available and convenient to get out and about, for shopping and visiting friends and family.

A road safety website is urging relatives of elderly drivers to do their research before having potentially sensitive conversations about giving up driving. The site – stillsafetodrive.org.uk – contains a suite of videos that cover topics connected with ageing, staying safe and how to adapt to changes in mobility.

Transport Research Laboratory chief scientist Prof Andrew Parkes, one of the UK’s top driver behaviour experts, warns in a video interview on the site that elderly drivers can feel quite defensive about their driving and any criticism of it.

“I know this from my own experience, as I was on a car journey driven by my father, the first for 10 years,” he says in a video interview that forms part of the Still Safe To Drive resource. “I noticed how his style of driving had changed – he was driving much faster, much more aggressively and assertively than he had done before.

“I reacted by expressing my surprise and then trying to make a joke out it, which probably made my father feel even more defensive about his driving.”

Prof Parkes says that talking to an elderly relative about driving – especially if your goal is to get that person to hang up the car keys – needs to be part of a properly-planned approach that’s sensitive and constructive.

“With the benefit of hindsight I should not have said anything to my father immediately. It would have been much more helpful to come back to the subject when I had lined up some sensible ideas to help my father, rather than simply expressing surprise and concern at his driving style.

“Taking time to think about just what journeys your elderly relative needs to make can assist in reducing the overall negative impact of age and the restrictions on mobility that can go with it,” he said. “You’re showing care and compassion, which can only help an elderly person make a smoother transition to a less mobile lifestyle.”

The resource can be found at www.stillsafetodrive.org.uk

Have you had to encourage an older person to give up driving or have you stopped driving? Share your experience by emailing motoring@archant.co.uk

Making the conversation positive

Put yourself in an older person’s shoes before you have a discussion that focuses on giving up driving. The best way to do this is by experiencing life without the car yourself. This will help you appreciate both the drawbacks and the advantages.

Don’t expect to deal with everything in one conversation where you may be dropping a bombshell.

The best approach is to engage your elderly relative in a conversation on the subject before you have specific safety concerns.

Broaching the issue of safety and ‘giving up’ a year or more early might mean you’re spared the need to confront your relative – and you can work together over a period of time to make a few small adjustments in driving style, vehicle and journey type.

Explore the practical options your relative will have to remain as mobile as possible.

If you’re going to talk about using the bus, then research the timetable. If you’re suggesting taxis, check out a few sample fares.

Don’t focus solely on the necessary journeys. Yes, elderly relatives may well need lifts to the surgery and the shops, but they are likely to miss the freedom of a car for outings and social visits, so have a plan to help them in maintaining this important aspect of mobility, even if it’s not in their own car.

Check out some of the options for volunteer services from local organisations. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to act as full-time chauffeur for an elderly relative, but there are often local schemes that can assist with lifts on a regular or occasional basis.

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