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Ask Dr. Gott 7/25
Elderly drivers may have their limits
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    DEAR DR. GOTT: My father needs to stop driving. He is 85 years old, and his reflexes aren't as keen as they used to be. He, in my opinion, doesn't meet the requirements of a good driver and is unable to focus on most of what is going on around him while driving (i.e., other drivers and pedestrians).
    His eye and foot doctors both say he is fine to drive, and he has passed his driver's test, but none of his children will get in the car with him because he has had several near misses. The scary part is that during these misses, he did not even know the other person or car was there until someone pointed it out. He refuses to see his internist about our concerns and won't listen to anyone about it.
    We are so afraid that he will cause an accident and hurt someone. I understand that he doesn't want to stop driving because it is a loss of independence, but he needs to realize that if he doesn't stop driving, something bad will happen. As I see it, he stops now before that happens, or he has his license withdrawn after something horrible happens. Either way, he loses that freedom, but he may lose much more. Please help us make him see the light.
    DEAR READER: Despite the confidence of two of his doctors and your state's Department of Motor Vehicles, you are worried about your father's driving, and, from your brief letter, rightfully so.
    I believe that your father's eye and foot doctors have not taken the whole situation into account when advising him he is OK to drive. Your description leads me to believe that he is physically capable of driving but not mentally. If he is unaware of other drivers and what is going on around him in the car, it is not appropriate for him to be driving.
    I can understand your father's reluctance to lose part of his independence, but you correctly point out (and I gather have told him) the serious risks of him continuing to drive. I don't understand how he could have passed him driver's test unless during his test it was especially quiet on the roads with little traffic and few people around.
    Why were his eye and foot doctors involved in the first place? Does he have declining visual acuity? What about neuropathy or numbness of his feet? I urge him to seek the advice of his primary-care physician, who can assess the situation and take into account the concerns of the family, and your father's physical and mental health, and then come to a decision.
    In the meantime, perhaps you could work out a schedule with your father. Sit down with him to discuss your concerns and let him know that it is unsafe for him to drive at night, in heavy traffic, over long distances or during inclimate weather, but you believe he may be able to continue driving as long as there is another person in the car, the roads are dry and the trip will not last more than 15 to 20 minutes. In this way, he is kept off the roads during peak hours when accidents are more likely and he can keep some of his coveted independence.
    If he refuses, perhaps it is time to inform the DMV of his declining abilities and request that they retest him.

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