By 2020, there will be more than 40 million licensed drivers age 65 and older. Telling a senior parent it’s time to stop driving is a hard decision, but one that must be made – eventually.

It is a decision that most of us will have to face one day. When is the right time to advise an elderly parent or family member to give up driving? More importantly, what’s the best way to handle this often-difficult transition?

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), people 65 and older represent the fastest-growing segment of the population in the United States. By 2020, there will be more than 40 million licensed drivers age 65 and older.

Being able to drive gives all of us a degree or autonomy and independence, but as our faculties slip, eventually driving becomes dangerous — not just for us, but for others on the road.

According to the latest statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 5,500 people age 65 and older were killed in auto accidents in 2012. Another 214,000 were injured. Most of the traffic fatalities involving older drivers occurred during the day when visibility was clear. Driving at night or under adverse conditions could be even more dangerous.

Mistakes Older Drivers Commonly Make

Some of us have been driving safely for decades and rarely think about the process of driving. However, the National Institute of Health (NIH) notes that it’s a complicated task that requires the driver to see and hear clearly, and have the ability to concentrate on many variables, including other cars, traffic signals, and pedestrians.

As we age, we can expect declines in our eyesight, hearing, and in our ability to react quickly to unexpected situations, for example, a car speeding through a red light. The NIH has outlined some mistakes commonly made by elderly drivers. They include:

  • Failing to yield the right of way
  • Failing to stay in lane
  • Misjudging the time or distance needed to turn in front of traffic
  • Failing to stop completely at a stop sign
  • Speeding or driving too slowly.

Knowing When to Ask for the Car Keys

The NIH has some helpful information in “Having the Talk About Driving,” even if you’re just starting to think about this issue. It has suggestions on how to handle the topic with a senior parent or family member. The guide notes that the conversation should start early and that it’s important to be proactive to head off any problems before they begin.

Colorado Helping Senior Drivers

Colorado is being proactive when it comes to helping senior drivers, their families, and caregivers. In 2015, Drive Smart Colorado, a nonprofit, community traffic safety organization, released a guide for aging drivers called “Colorado’s Guide for Aging Drivers and Their Families, From Plains to Peaks.” The booklet was released to reduce traffic crashes and deaths through community collaboration and education.

In 2014, Drive Smart Colorado founded an Older Driver Coalition with the goal of addressing the transportation needs of seniors as they transition from drivers to passengers. The guide is full of data, including information on the steps the state is taking to assist older drivers, FAQs about driver’s license renewal for an aging driver, and information about when the driver’s medical history is needed for renewal.

It’s All About Safety

Losing driving privileges can be a big blow for seniors, who may feel they’re losing their independence. Starting the conversation early is vital, and focusing on safety is an essential part of the discussion. Seniors need to know that it’s not only their safety that family members are worried about, but the safety of everyone on the road.

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