There comes a time where somebody you’re close to shouldn’t be driving anymore. That’s a difficult conversation to have, especially in America. We’re brought up to be independent, and personal freedom is a thing we can’t imagine giving up. But the automobile is often the center of independence and freedom. Let’s face it – giving up driving is another step toward giving up independence and no one wants to do that.

But what can you do if you feel your loved one’s driving has become unsafe? What should you do?

Trooper Steve Lamb-MSP Photo

Trooper Steve Lamb of the Marshall State Police Post was recently on the 95.3 WBCK Morning Show with Tim Collins to talk about it on a “Miles for Memories” segment. Here are some of the things he talked about. “It might be an eyesight or reflex problem, or maybe Alzheimer’s or dementia, but a lot of times it’s up to family members to be the first ones to notice. It’s not easy.”

Perhaps the easiest thing to do in the beginning is to increase your offers to do the driving.  But, when you notice that your loved one’s driving skills are declining, you need to initiate a conversation. Be prepared – it won’t be easy. Keep the conversation relaxed and as non-confrontational as possible.

Share your observations. If fact, they’ll probably ask you, “What are you talking about? Name one thing?” There’s where you might need to have done some homework. Perhaps you’ve seen him or her run a stop sign, pull out in front of other traffic, speed or drive too slowly. Trooper Lamb says it might help to point out your concern for the safety of others, as well as for theirs.

If you’re riding with your loved one, you can point out errors – but try to do it gently. Share your concerns for not only their safety but the safety of others around them.

If all else fails, you may have to seek professional help. You might be able to ask their doctor to suggest that they give up driving and, if possible, refer them to an occupational therapist to test their vision, thinking, perception, and motor skills. If the doctor or therapist suggests they give up driving, ask them to write a letter to that effect.

You could show the doctor’s letter to the Secretary of State’s office and ask them to retest your loved one’s driving abilities. Even without a letter from a doctor, you can ask the Secretary of State’s office to retest your loved one, explaining a diagnosis of dementia and your concern for their safety on the road.

Even if the Secretary of State’s office cancels the driver’s license and the insurance company cancels the insurance, your loved one may forget these new restrictions, so keeping car keys in a safe place, out of sight, is a good idea. It’s also possible to put a locking bar on the steering wheel but be sure to keep the locking bar key in a different place than the car keys.

To help make the loss of driving privileges more manageable, enlist the help of other family members. Things might go a little more smoothly if your loved one hears the same concerns from more than just you. And it also might help with they have plenty of options for getting where they want to go. Lamb says they might just need reassurance. “A lot of times, a person just doesn’t want to be an inconvenience a family member to come and pick them up.”

One listener to the program wrote to us with a word of caution. They had a letter from a doctor advising that the spouse should no longer be driving. The couple went straight to the Secretary of State’s office, and it caused a major conflict between them. The writer advised that “This should never be attempted in this environment and can be accomplished at your computer and the person for whom you trading the DL for the Michigan ID card can be reading or sleeping.”

Miles for Memories is creating solutions for those impacted by dementia in Calhoun County through movement, programming, and research. Find them on FaceBook or at the Miles for Memories website.

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