Caregiver’s Guide to Driving Issues

By Christine Steinmetz, J.D., Hotline Attorney

The Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors receives phone calls each week from loved ones and caregivers asking what he or she can do when there are concerns about a loved one’s driving. In this post, I will discuss issues that arise when a caregiver becomes aware of potential problems for an older driver, and the resources that are available to assist them. Often, caregivers will wonder if they should have a talk with an older driver or if they should take away the older person’s keys.

First, the caregiver will want to become aware of potential warning signs, such as forgetfulness or confusion. Other warning signs include failure to follow the rules of the road, decreased vision, aggressive driving, or driving below the speed limit. If an older driver has had multiple driving infractions or other people express concerns about the older adult’s driving, it may be time to discuss continuing to have a driver’s license. Once a caregiver becomes aware that there may be an issue with a person’s ability to drive, the caregiver may wonder where to go for help.

Caregivers can turn to doctors and health care providers to assist with making decisions regarding an older adult’s driving. A doctor can explain how a person’s condition can affect their physical and mental health, which in turn would affect one’s driving abilities. Sometimes medications can affect a person’s driving, making them drowsy or slow to respond. Doctors and optometrists are not required to report to the Secretary of State. If they do report, the report must be based on a medical episode. There are a few organizations that can help you evaluate your driving such as the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists, or 866-672-9466, the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., or 800-729-2682 and the Michigan Department of State Rehabilitation Agencies and Resource List.

Losing a driver’s license can be devastating to the person who has lost his or her license. Once a person loses his or her driver’s license, they may begin to feel isolated if they live alone. There is the concern as to who will drive them and may fear that they will be disrespected by others. A person without a driver’s license may also feel as though he or she is now a burden and must rely on others for rides.

It is recommended that the caregiver create a transportation plan to help maintain independence and quality of life for the one they care for. The caregiver will want to look into public transportation options at the Michigan Department of Transportation. The Michigan Department of State includes contact information by county for alternate transportation. You can also call the Department of State at 888-767-6424 or your local Area Agency on Aging for information on transportation options within your area. The Detroit Metro area has SMART Community Transit that provides curb to curb service to seniors. You can call 866-962-5515 in advance to make a reservation.

There are several organizations that have resources to assist older drivers and their caregivers in making driving decisions. There is a free online seminar through AARP called “We Need to Talk.”

Michigan’s Senior Mobility Work Group has a guide to assist aging Michigan drivers and caregivers to understand how aging can affect one’s ability to drive. We all want to continue driving to maintain our independence but need to be aware of changes that can affect one’s driving.

For more information about services for seniors, please contact the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors at 800-347-5297.