This is part two of a week-long, five-part series during which Kelly Waldron will delve into the controversial issue of senior driving. From recognizing the warning signs to having difficult conversations to taking away the keys and finding alternate transportation, it’s an important issue that plagues many families across New Jersey, one of which will share their very personal story.

Driving signifies independence, but as people age, the body changes, reaction times are different and it may not be as easy or as safe as it once was.

“It’s not uncommon for elderly drivers to begin limiting their driving on their own. If they have some eye difficulties or if their reactions are slower then they once were, they may take certain routes and drive certain roads or stop driving when it’s dark,” said Terri Wilson, Caregiver Initiative Specialist with the State Division of Aging Services.

But, what if they don’t notice any changes? What are the signs to look for?

“You may notice dents on the car, scrapes on the tires or dings in the mailbox. There may be unexplained traffic tickets. But, rather than jump to conclusions, take the time to observe the person in question. If you get a chance, make up some excuses to drive with them to the store. Start looking to see if they’re signaling properly and make sure they’re not stopping for no reason while they’re behind the wheel,” said Wilson.

“The ability to drive is so important to us. It helps us stay independent, so it’s a very sensitive and very personal topic,” said Lavelle Jones, Deputy State Coordinator of the AARP New Jersey Driver Safety Program. “We have different courses that we offer for seniors to help them self-evaluate. It’s important to look at the condition of the car and take notice of any new scrapes or dents. It’s important to be aware of how their bodies feel while behind the wheel. They need to be comfortable.”

Like Wilson, Jones says it’s very important to take the time to evaluate and observe.

“If you take a drive with your Aunt Sally today and she happens to run over a curb. Don’t run home right away and say she has a driving problem and we need to talk with her,” said Jones. “You need to watch and observe her over time because this is a very sensitive thing and you don’t want to jump into a conversation when it’s really not necessary.”

In the event that you notice driving issues over time, that is when the difficult conversation can begin.

For seniors who may want to self-check their driving abilities on a regular basis, the AARP also offers a program called Car Fit in which drivers can bring their cars to a designated location where a series of tests and reviews are conducted.

“Is the car the right fit? Comfort is very important. We’ll look at the person seated in the car, we’ll see where the seat belt hits, what the space is like between chest and steering wheel. We’ll also ask the person to drive and see how they turn the wheel and use signals. It’s basically a behind the wheel review and the person walks away with recommendations,” said Jones.