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A lack of independence? Helping a loved one to decide to stop driving

If you have an older friend or relative who is still behind the wheel, but maybe you think they shouldn’t be, it can be a tough conversation to try to have with them. There are almost five million people in the UK who are over the age of 70 and still driving regularly, and DVLA figures show there are actually 506 people on the roads who are over the age of 100.

Many of these do not drive, keeping licenses only for emergencies or for ID purposes, although the DVLA estimate that over 200 of them do regularly drive. Despite their age, these people have proven themselves to be competent to be on the roads, but unfortunately that’s not always the case.

DVLA requirements for older drivers

After the age of 70, motorists must declare to DVLA whether they are fit to drive every three years. However, they don’t require any sort of medical examination in order to keep driving. It is important that older drivers do declare if they have certain medical conditions, including:

  • Parkinson’s
  • Dementia
  • Insulin treated diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Neurological conditions such as MS
  • A condition of the eyes, or loss of sight in one eye

Telling the DVLA about these conditions will not automatically mean your loved one is excluded from driving. Once they have alerted the DVLA, usually a decision will be made based on the information they provided. The DVLA may contact your loved one’s GP, or ask them to have a medical examination. In some cases, they may even ask them to take a driving assessment or eyesight test.

If your loved one has no medical condition to declare, they will simply have their license reissued for another three years. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are safe to drive.

Is your loved one’s driving dangerous?

It would be unfair of us to assume that just because someone is older they are automatically unsafe on the roads. However, there are some warning signs you should look out for that could indicate that the time has come to talk to your loved one; for example:

  • Driving much slower than the speed limit, holding up traffic
  • Slower reactions to cars in front stopping or other inputs
  • Misses red lights and other road signals
  • Gets lost easily, even in familiar places
  • Has been issued speeding tickets or penalty points in the recent past
  • Car has become dented, scraped and damaged

Watch out for these and other signals as a sign it’s time to have a conversation with them about their driving. Maybe even take a trip with them behind the wheel, to see for yourself whether they are safe on the road.

Talking to your loved one

For older people, their car can be their lifeline. Particularly for those living in rural areas, it can be the only way to get to a shop or social event, with no public transport or taxis for miles around. Undoubtedly, they are going to feel defensive about the idea of giving up their keys, so it’s important to be sympathetic and understanding to their feelings from the start.

Rather than forcibly removing their keys, why not suggest a driver assessment session to see if there’s anything they could be helped with. ROSPA and the IAM run such courses, all in strict confidentiality.

Take some time to investigate local alternatives too. The older person’s bus pass means they can get around free of charge in towns and cities, and the senior railcard offers drastically reduced fares for older people. There are also local services which you can find out about from your local authority, and even in rural areas, there may be a ring and ride service to help them get their shopping each week.

In a hearing in 2014, a judge called for people to take notice of the driving abilities of older friends and relatives, and to do what they can to encourage them to give up motoring if they think they are a danger on the road. This was following a fatal head on crash, caused by an 84-year-old woman who had drifted out of her lane in the dark.

Talking to your loved one about giving up driving is never going to be easy, but by helping them to find another way to maintain their independence, you could be saving them from being seriously injured on the road (or from seriously injuring someone else). 

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