Thursday, February 9, 2012

“Dad, Can I Have the Car Keys Please?”

People put much emphasis on making sure their teen drivers are fully prepared for the responsibility of driving a car alone. Can they multi-task? Can they remember the laws? Can they remember where they are going and how to get back home? These are all questions that come to mind as the parent of a teenage driver….but, how much consideration goes into whether or not your elder family members should be driving?

Every month Overland Park Police Officers respond to calls assisting elderly drivers. The old joke of the white haired, little old lady driving down the freeway with her blinker on, blocking traffic is not exactly what I am referring to. While we often see slower drivers who are elderly and speed by rolling our eyes thinking, “Someone needs to take away their license,” it’s not that easy. Kansas currently has no law on the books that mandates when an elderly driver is “too old” to drive or when a driver’s test is needed.

Most often, officers respond to assist an elderly driver who is confused or cannot remember how to get back home, rather than the call of someone driving too slowly with their turn signal on. This can be a very frightening experience for the driver, as well as embarrassing. Family members often respond to the scene and state they were aware the driver has recently had issues with their mental awareness, but they are not sure what they can do.

If you have a loved one who is starting to have difficulty or you feel their mental alertness is diminishing, take a ride with them. Have them drive you somewhere they routinely go. Check their ability to respond to stimulus while they are driving, how easily they remember the route, or even why they were going to a certain location. But, don’t be in a rush to take away the keys. Taking away someone’s ability to drive is not something to be taken lightly. They will have to depend on others to get to the grocery store, the doctor, church, and social gatherings. This can be a very devastating experience and should be approached with sensitivity.

If you feel someone you care about is starting to have difficulty with the task of driving alone, you can write a letter to the Kansas Department of Revenue stating why you feel this person’s driving privileges should be revoked. Family, friends, doctors, and police officers are tasked with making sure elderly drivers are up to the task, and should take this matter very seriously.