How Do I Keep Elderly Mom Out of a Car Crash?


Dear Driving for Dollars, My elderly mother's driving skills are declining. It's not bad enough that I think she needs to give up her license. But her skills aren't as good as they used to be.

Part of the problem, I think, is that she is not driving as much as she used to. I'm worried she is going to have a car accident that could cause some serious damage to her fragile body. Is there anything I can do to protect her? -- Jane

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Dear Jane, You are right to be concerned. The more regularly a person drives, the better he or she is at responding more quickly to sudden issues that can often cause a car accident. As people age, driving is more challenging.

Drivers age 85 and older are injured or killed in crashes at a higher rate than any other age group -- due primarily to increased fragility that comes with age.

I'd suggest your first line of defense would be to get your mom behind the wheel more often, with you or another experienced driver, but not another elderly driver, who can be a second set of eyes and ears, coaching her in much the way that you were probably coached when you were learning to drive.

Next, I'd consider enrolling her in a class, which could not only improve her driving skills but also could lower her car insurance rate. Classes may be offered through your mom's local senior center or a driving school in her town. Some car insurance companies also offer them. And, AAA offers its Roadwise course, both online and in a classroom setting, designed especially for seniors to improve their driving skills.

Finally, many new cars offer technology that can greatly benefit elderly drivers, such as rearview cameras and sensors that warn when a car is in the blind spot, when a driver wanders out of a lane or when the car is approaching the car ahead too quickly.

If buying a new (or newer) car is not possible for your mom, both lane-departure warning and forward-collision warning systems are starting to be available as aftermarket devices that can be added to older cars. While not inexpensive (they range from $1,100 to $1,700, depending on the system, including professional installation), they are far cheaper than buying a new car and could certainly give you, and your mom, some added peace of mind.

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