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Elderly Driving: When To Ask Aging Relatives For The Keys

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(Photo: Tom Ervin/Getty Images)

(Photo: Tom Ervin/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBS 2) – It may be one of the most difficult conversations to have with an aging parent: is it time to hand over the car keys?

I learned firsthand how tough it can be getting older and still getting behind the wheel of a car.

It felt like I belonged in the hospital, and certainly not behind the wheel of a car. It was the way you feel after the accident, not before.

It would be comical if it weren’t so deadly serious. As part of Liberty Mutual Insurance’s exhibit at Grand Central, I got a chance to put on what is called a “senior simulator suit” to get a sense of how some elderly people may feel while driving.

It was exhausting.

They put 40 to 50 pounds of weights on me to restrict my movements, and to simulate arthritic knees and hands and back problems. That’s not to mention the visually impairing eyewear, that caused me to lose center vision and leave me with nothing but peripheral vision.

After the incredibly tough job of getting into the car, putting on my seat belt and adjusting my mirrors, then came the scary part.

“Imagine an emergency occurs – you’ve got to get to the gas and the brake almost instantaneously,” Liberty Mutual’s Dave Melton said. “With the restricted mobility we’ve given you, it’s tough to do.”

Of course, not all seniors are as impaired as I was, but drivers over 65 have the second-highest number of car accidents, right behind teenagers.

So how do you talk to an elderly relative about handing over their car keys?

“We prefer to have the conversation early – talk when they’re in the 50s, 60s, 70s,” Melton said. “We’ve done focus groups – seniors want conversation, children are afraid to have them.”

After wearing the senior simulator suit like I did, 18-year-old Norris Campbell said he learned a lot.

“Now I know how it feels. Now I am going to call my grandmother in England,” Campbell said. “I want someone else to drive for her.”

It may be a tough conversation to have, but it’s also clearly one worth having.

In the tri-state area, there is no mandatory safety testing for older drivers renewing their license.

If you’d like more information on how to talk to an elderly relative about driving, click here.

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