When a loved one is facing the end of their driving career it can be very hard on them as well as on family members. This is particularly true when dementia is involved as the driver may not have the insight to understand why they need to stop driving.
Families frequently have to manage this situation and some have to go to the extreme of hiding the keys or even the car itself.
Below is some advice which may help you.
Our support service
We know that when the end of the road to driving retirement comes into view it can cause many heartaches, not only for the driver but also for those closest to the driver.
We have a variety of ways in which we can help you manage that process, from advice about informing the DVLA about a medical condition to looking for ways in which the driver can keep their independence. From investigating what is the likely cause of increased risk in a persons driving to helping the family and driver come to terms with the need to retire.
You have come to realise that someone very close to you is no longer safe to drive.
You also realise how much driving means to them and what a huge impact it would have if they had to stop.
The life they had been used to for many years giving them freedom and independence would stop stop overnight.
Yet, how much worse would it be for many people if they had an accident where someone was killed or injured?
So how do you start a conversation with them?
The ground rules
Remember, above all else that no one who loves driving likes to be told they are no longer safe.
It doesn't matter how many options you give a driver, such as busses, taxis, walking and volunteer care groups, the relationship with our car is an emotional one which far outweighs any practical advice of alternatives.
So before you start the conversation here are a few ground rules:
- Do not suddenly tell them they should stop driving unless absolutely necessary. This may be a massive shock and they are likely to go into defence mode or even fight back.
- Instead, over a period of weeks, or even months, start to get them to realise they are not as safe as they used to be.
- You may need to sit with them as a passenger a few times and, afterwards, not during the drive, tell them what you were worried about.
- For this to work you need to notice as soon as concerns appear rather than wait until they have become dangerous.
- Stay on message. Keep repeating the same concerns over a period of time, but not every day.
Above all, however badly you feel about it, you must take positive action to stop your loved one driving when it has clearly become unsafe.
As a passenger you will know what feels safe and what doesn't.
Below are some things which suggest a driver is not able to cope with the degree of decision making required to drive safely. This often comes about through cognitive impairment which can affect concentration, awareness, planning and anticipation.
- Try to notice when the driver is having trouble positioning the car in the right part of the road. Look to see if they are consistently getting too close to parked vehicles or driving too far to the right.
- Find out if they seem to be slow to notice hazards ahead. Do they react late to something you saw a while ago?
- Do they have problems using the space available in a car park when manoeuvring into or out of a tight space?
- Are they slow to take decisions at junctions?
- Do they get flustered at road layouts they should know well?
- Do other motorists honk the horn on more than a few occasions?
- Are dents and scratches starting to appear on the car?
- Do they need a very high degree of concentration ahead to keep driving safely on quiet, familiar roads? This can be good but it can be a sign of cognitive overload.
- If you have noticed any of these issues take independent advice from a professional driving assessor who is experienced with this type of situation. Please note, if you pick a driving instructor that has no experience with this type of assessment there is a danger of false confidence being given to the driver you know to be unsafe.
The Law in the UK.
There are only two circumstances when someone's driving licence can be taken away from them:
1) By the Courts following a conviction such as dangerous driving or drink driving. This often, but not always, follows a collision.
2 ) If DVLA decide that the driver is medically unfit to continue to hold a driving licence. This normally follows a medical enquiry by DVLA which can take many weeks.
The DVLA cannot take someone's licence away simply because they are bad drivers.
Driving with Cognitive Impairment
As we age, the speed at which we can process information slows down. This is a natural process and happens to everyone but to different degrees.
We also become more likely to develop some form of cognitive impairment which shows initially through increased forgetfulness and confusion.
Some will go on to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or another form of Dementia.
Other illnesses such as Stroke or Parkinson's disease can also lead to cognitive impairment.
When a person develops cognitive impairment they are legally required to notify DVLA.
The legal Framework
You must tell the DVLA if you have cognitive problems or severe memory problems.
You can be fined up to £1,000 if you don’t tell DVLA about a medical condition that affects your driving. You may be prosecuted if you’re involved in an accident as a result.
At 70 we all have to reapply for our driving licence every three years.
When making this application we have to complete a health questionnaire.
This is normally when drivers declare a known medical condition but you shouldn't wait for this to declare a notifiable condition.
When DVLA receives a notification of cognitive impairment they will normally follow the below process:
- Write to the licence holder to get permission to contact their GP.
- Ask the GP whether the licence holder is fit to drive.
- Occasionally they will require a formal driving assessment to be carried out.
- The medical team at DVLA will use information obtained from these sources to make a decision.
- The licence will then be renewed or revoked.