After getting my speeding ticket, I felt the need to go home and profess that I was a competent driver. I was on a familiar road, I had not been drinking, and it was, after all, in the middle of the afternoon. It was just a normal day until the policeman ruined it for me.
“I can’t believe the policeman stopped me,” I complained. “I was just coming home from the grocery store and thinking about getting everything ready for tomorrow night’s family dinner.”
In our teens, we would talk about who had gotten their drivers’ license, what car they were driving, and who had been in the car with them. At 15, most of my friends had their learner’s licenses. At 16, they were driving all over town. Not me. My parents said teenagers should not drive until they were 18. That limited my social life as well as my ability to get around.
My sister had been a passenger in a car that crashed after running a stop sign. Her pelvis was broken and so were my dreams of driving at 16. So, I was at the mercy of friends, dates and my parents. At that time, freedom was paramount. Competency, I kept telling my parents, was determined by passing the driving exam. I would not be a reckless driver, I was sure.
I often hear adult children struggling with taking the keys away from their aging parents. It’s tantamount, many say, to taking away their parents’ freedom and independence. How then, should an adult child determine if it is time for their aging parent to turn over the keys to the car? And if they should no longer drive, should they be living independently?
When determining a parent’s competency, it is helpful to ask these questions:
1. How will you determine when your parent should no longer live independently?
2. How will you determine when your parent should no longer drive?
3. Has your parent’s capacity to live on their own or drive a car diminished significantly?
4. Does the diminished capacity include physical, emotional or cognitive decline?
5. Did the decline accompany a move to a new environment?
6. Are there other mitigating factors such as hearing loss, grief or an illness?
7. Has your parent’s mood change significantly?
8. Would your parent benefit from a driver refresher course?
9. Can you limit driving to a defined route and specific conditions?
10. Has your parent had a recent eye exam?
Minimizing risk may be necessary, and beneficial for the short term. A drivers’ competency test may be available for your parent and help to better define your parent’s ability to drive safely. It’s often a tough decision, but ask yourself which is more important: safety or independence?