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7 signs your parents shouldn't drive anymore

Asking your parents to turn over their car keys isn't easy.

After experiencing the freedom that driving offers, few people like the idea of depending on others or relying on public transportation. However, when age diminishes the ability of seniors to drive without endangering themselves and others, it's time to start making hard decisions about transportation alternatives.

elderly driversAuto insurance companies recognize that the U.S. driving population is aging. Accident rates – and car insurance rates – typically begin to rise around age 65.

"Americans are living longer than they ever have before," says Dave Snyder, vice president and associate general counsel for the American Insurance Association. "As the post World War II baby boom generation moves along through the years, you will see an increase in very elderly drivers. It is an issue that will grow in importance. No one wants to lose their independence, no matter how old they are."

Seven warning signs

Here are seven signs that it may be time to take the keys away from Mom and Dad:

1.     Too many near-misses. We all experience close calls while driving, but these should be rare occurrences. If you are afraid to drive with Mom or Dad these days because they can't keep their minds on the traffic, it's a strong indication that they have reached the end of their driving days.

2.     Difficulty turning to check traffic. If physical limitations have made it hard for your parents to turn to see the road behind them, they may not be physically fit for driving. Defensive drivers need to be aware of the traffic that surrounds them.

3.     Losing their way. Anyone can get lost, but if this becomes a noticeable pattern, it may signal a loss of memory that can seriously impair driving.

4.     Slow responses. Drivers don't need to have the quick reflexes of teenagers to be competent behind the wheel, but they must be able to respond to sudden changes in traffic and react to emergency situations.

5.     Having a badly battered car. If you've noticed a growing amount of dings and dents on your parent's car, it's a sign that something is wrong. A large number of very minor accidents can foreshadow a big one.

6.     Driving angry. An inability to cope with the normal frustrations of driving without losing their temper could indicate that your parent is no longer mentally fit to drive.

7.     Too many tickets. Good drivers frequently go years between tickets for traffic violations. If your parent is cited frequently, you need to find out why. Also, too many tickets can lead to high auto insurance quotes.

Speak from the heart

Questioning your parents' ability to drive "can be a challenging conversation to have," says David Shotwell, the senior director of livable communities at AARP. "There are three things we recommend. The first is to get the facts and learn the warning signs. Second is to educate yourself so you are prepared. Third is to prepare for and initiate a thoughtful conversation. We use the term, 'Prepare with your head and talk with your heart.'"

If you see strong warning signs that it's time for your parents to stop driving, you may want to involve their doctors. Sometimes problems can be corrected with treatment. If poor vision is a hindrance, perhaps your parents can limit their driving to daylight hours in order to prolong their driving years and independence. If poor health has diminished their abilities, they may be able to get back behind the wheel after treatment.

The most important thing to remember when you chat with your parents about driving is that you are helping them make responsible decisions about their own safety and the safety of others. They cared for you when you needed advice as a child. Now it's time for you to return the favor. Point out how much money they will save on auto insurance and car maintenance if they limit their driving.

Reducing auto insurance rates

Sometimes a senior can resume driving safely after taking a refresher driver course, says Dave Althausen, spokesperson for the California Department of Insurance. The department has been working closely with the American Automobile Association (AAA), which offers auto insurance, to encourage senior drivers to polish their road skills in special classes.

A refresher course can reinforce good driving skills, teach new ones and help change driving habits. These classes may offer tips on how to improve awareness and avoid collisions. Around the country, AARP and many state departments of motor vehicles offer such training. Information about such classes can be found at www.aarp.org.

Sometimes taking such a class can result in an auto insurance discount, said Althausen. "It is good for seniors because it helps them save money. It's good for other drivers because it helps seniors hone their skills. It's a win-win."

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