Q.: How do I know if my 86-year-old father is a good driver and should still be on the road? His doctor is starting to question whether he should be driving.
A.: First, you'll want to take seriously any concerns that your dad's doctor is expressing. Have a candid discussion with your father. Make sure he has a valid driver's license and check the laws in your state. Some require driving tests and physicals for those older than a certain age and shorter renewal periods.
Then make it a point to ride with your dad to see how he's doing. If he is hard of hearing, encourage him to always wear hearing aids when he gets behind the wheel.
In addition, check the exterior of his vehicle for any fresh scratches or dings. Look for telltale signs that your father might be having problems seeing such as the seat pushed up close to the dash board. If your father seems to be doing OK, don't be surprised.
The latest research reveals that older drivers are holding their own. A study reported in the July issue of Accident Analysis and Prevention found that older drivers are more sensitive to potential hazards than young, inexperienced drivers.
The study, "Age Skill and Hazard Perception," from the Human Factors Safety Laboratory at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, suggests that older drivers focus more on potentially risky situations, such as approaching an intersection or pedestrians on a curb, than young drivers.
What's more, an Insurance Institute of Highway Safety study released in June noted that by 2008, the number of people 70 or older in the U.S. increased to 78 percent. But fatal crashes per licensed driver in that group declined about 37 percent.
Among drivers 80 and older the fatal crash rate fell by nearly half compared with the fatal crash rate for drivers 35 to 54 years, which fell only 23 percent.
The Insurance Institute attributed older drivers' superior driving record in part to self-policing.
Many seniors whose driving fitness is questionable are giving up their cars on their own.
Rules in many states to strengthen testing before renewing licenses instead of renewing by mail also are helping.
Driving is an individual issue. If and when your dad does need to give up his driving, remind him that he has options including companionship service.
The Home Instead Senior Care network provides support for older adults who can no longer drive.
For more information about the Home Instead Senior Care network, contact DeLauter at 866-522-6533 or visit www.homeinstead.com.
DeLauter is the owner of the Home Instead Senior Care office in Lewisburg, which serves Union, Snyder, Northumberland, Lycoming, Clinton, Montour and Columbia counties.