Last year, when my mother was hospitalized, it became clear that my father’s “forgetfulness” was no longer simple forgetfulness. He was suffering from dementia and he needed help. Also, he was blind in one eye and he was still driving. My family made it clear to my father that he could no longer drive but you can’t stop someone who cannot clearly understand his physical limitations. When my mother came home from the hospital, I was quite shocked and upset to learn that at she still went “short distances” with my father driving. It was clear that they both had impaired ability to fully understand their limitations and the dangers of my father’s driving.
Let me back up a little bit. My father’s eyesight had been failing for years. When he renewed his license in his 80s, and failed the eye exam, I assumed that would be that. Actually, I was quite relieved there wouldn’t have to be any intervention. But that wasn’t that. My father brought a form from the DMV to his eye doctor at the Stratton Medical Center in Albany, New York and that doctor, without consulting anyone, signed it and my father’s license was renewed. He went back to driving unsafely even though his eyesight continued to deteriorate.
My father suffered from cataracts. He had a series of surgeries and one went bad—very bad—leaving him with a blind, leaky eye. I believed that any responsible doctor would now tell my father he could no longer drive. That did not happen. He began to get into small accidents and, of course, did not tell anyone. He also got pulled over a few times. I called his eye doctor, twice, at the Stratton Medical Center who never returned my call. I spoke to his social worker at the Stratton Medical Center who deemed my father “fine.” I was desperately reaching out to anyone who could help me get my father off the road.
It ended up being easier than I thought. I filled out a “Request for Driver Review” form from the Department of Motor Vehicles. I put my name as well as my four siblings’ names, and mailed it off. The truth was, I really thought nothing would come of it. I was wrong. The DMV reached out to my father and he was required to take a road test. Of course, he failed, and his license was suspended.
I can tell you with my whole heart, that this was not easy. Unbelievably, my father never found out it was me who “turned him in.” I was sure the DMV was going to tell him. That was the reason I put all my siblings name on the form. It wouldn’t be just me. However, I was willing to risk the relationship with my father to keep him, my mother and others safe. My father believed a police officer who pulled him over for going over the yellow line was the one that did it. I did not dissuade him of that belief.
I understand the argument that when people can no longer drive, they lose their independence. They may become isolated. They may become lonely and their health could suffer. All of this true. But there was one thing that kept me focused. I kept thinking about my father hitting a pedestrian or a bicyclist because he had no peripheral vision. What would I say to that person’s family? How could I tell them that he shouldn’t have been driving and I did nothing to prevent it? My parents’ inconveniences were nothing compared to what a grieving family might suffer if my father killed someone.
The Steps to Take to Get Someone off the Road
- Talk to the person. I know this isn’t going to work. It rarely does but you do have to start here. Try to do it in a calm manner. Don’t accuse. Just make a list of the facts you have noticed about the person’s driving. If it does miraculously work make sure you take the keys. Keep in mind, if the person has dementia, s/he may not be able to make this decision. (Believe it or not, my mother agreed to stop driving!)
- Talk to other family members. Ask them to not be a passenger with the dangerous driver. This may not work either. My mother continued to get into the car with my father. She thought it was “safer” with her in the car so she could “look out” for him.
- If the person has medical conditions that should keep him off the road, speak to the doctor and ask the doctor to fill out DMV form DS-6 “Physicians Request for Driver Review.” Download the form off the website and bring it or mail it to the doctor. My father’s doctors were totally irresponsible. I mailed the form to them and, as far as I can tell, they never even looked at it. In a good doctor’s defense, there must be a medical reason for a doctor to fill out this form.
- If the driver has been in an accident or has been pulled over, you can ask the police to fill out for DS-5, “Police Agency Request for Driver Review.” Again, download the form and bring it to the police. It has more urgency to have a family member handing it to them, rather than simply requesting it. Like the physician’s referral, the agency needs to feel that this person is no longer a safe driver.
- If those steps fail, it’s up to you. And it is up to you. Keep in mind the person’s life you are saving. It could be the driver’s, the passenger’s or some poor stranger who got in the path of a dangerous driver who you did not report. It’s form DS-7. I downloaded mine from the DMV website. Mail it to:
Medical Review Unit
6 Empire State Plaza, Room 337
Albany, NY 12228
I found out later that the DMV does not disclose the name of the person who filled out the DS-7. I would have done it anyway, but it may put your mind to rest knowing that the person will not find out it was you.
- After the driver has lost his/her license, help the person maintain the level of their lifestyle. Call the County Office of the Aging for help. My parent’s county has a van to take seniors to medical appointments for a nominal fee. Ask friends and family to take the person to their regular activities. Arrange for in-home care, Meals-on-Wheels and grocery delivery.
My father was very angry at the loss of his license. I understood his anger and frustration. His life had been a lot about loss. Getting old is about loss; loss of family, friends, health, and mobility. Losing his license was a crushing loss of his independence. Even with all that, I knew it was the right thing to do. I did not want my father to die in a car crash, kill someone else or spend the last years of his life embroiled in a lawsuit because he injured or killed someone. The right thing is often not the easiest thing but it is always the right thing.
Website for DMV: https://dmv.ny.gov/driver-license/dmv-driver-re-evaluation