As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

Australia’s Best New Car News, Reviews and Buying Advice

Having THAT Conversation With Grandpa

oldcarguyIt was one of those conversations.  I don’t think that I’ve seen a look on my mother’s face like that since my younger brothers were teenagers.  No, my mum wasn’t complaining about anything I was doing.  What she was frustrated about was an upcoming conversation she was going to have to have with my 91-year-old grandfather.  “If I ever get like that,” she said through gritted teeth, “just take the keys away from me.”

The tricky conversations she was having with my grandfather were about his driving.  Yes, he still had all his marbles and his eyesight.  He’d passed his medical tests for driving.  However, my grandfather is the stereotyped absent-minded professor who will serenely ignore all sorts of chaos around him and keep on going regardless.  “Keep Calm and Carry On” is advice he doesn’t need. He is the sort of person who would be so busy doing complicated mathematical operations with the numbers on the rego plate of the in front of him that he wouldn’t pay much attention to the sirens blaring and bearing down on him from behind.  He just couldn’t see what the problem was about and why we were all making a fuss about how he drove around town without his glasses – he was going to the optometrist’s wasn’t he?  And didn’t he know the way there?  OK, he wrote off his Fiat Uno in one ding a few years ago and has had a couple of close calls in the Suzuki Swift that replaced it.  And so what if he dies in a crash – he’s over 90 and ready to go, isn’t he?  So what was the problem?

The problem is that we have all seen him making all those scary last-minute dodges, getting lost after a detour around road works sends him somewhere that doesn’t look the way it did as he remembered it 30 years ago.  We’ve seen him getting in and out of the car park and nearly collecting other cars and a tree.  Quite frankly, I would rather ride in a car driven by my learner-licence teenage son than by my grandfather.  And we don’t want him to kill himself by accident in a car crash even if this idea doesn’t bother him.  He could easily take someone with him.  Or he could not see that kid on a bike that he doesn’t expect.  My mother was having THAT conversation because a few people had expressed concern about his driving.

Australia has phased out driving tests for older drivers on the grounds that a lot of older drivers are perfectly competent on the roads.  Fair enough, too.  You don’t magically become exactly like everybody else the moment that you have a certain birthday.  Older people need to stay independent for as long as possible, and this often means driving.

However, there are some factors that put older drivers at risk.  Older bones are more brittle and healing takes longer, so a ding that would merely bruise a younger driver could send Great-Aunt Mary to hospital with a fracture.  Reaction times do get slower.  Add in the way that a lot of older people prefer little hatchbacks that aren’t quite as sturdy in a collision and you have a recipe for trouble, especially in combination with absent-mindedness.

It’s tricky, though, telling an older driver that they’re becoming a hazard.  It requires tact, sensitivity and delicate handling.  I certainly don’t envy my mother the task (and am grateful that she has given me permission to just take the keys when the day comes).  Mind you, my mother already had THAT conversation once before many years ago when my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s was starting to kick in and affect her driving.

It’s better for everyone if older drivers are honest with themselves about their ability to drive safely.  The Transport Accident Commission has put together a list of warning signs that perhaps it’s time to think through your options (hire a chauffeur? public transport?).  These warning signs are:

  • Serious health conditions such as arthritis, epilepsy, high blood pressure, anxiety or a heart condition;
  • Medication that impairs driving;
  • Difficulty reacting to what other drivers are doing;
  • Regularly driving at inappropriate speeds, either too fast or too slow;
  • Always needing passengers to give you directions and tell you when it’s safe to enter intersections;
  • Regularly ignoring or misunderstanding traffic signs and signals;
  • Difficulty judging distances between vehicles
  • Getting easily flustered or angry;
  • Difficulty turning your body, head or neck for extra visibility;
  • Problems with glare from shiny things or other cars, especially at dawn or dusk;
  • One or more accidents in a short space of time;
  • Easily tired after driving for an hour or more;
  • Problems concentrating when driving;
  • Passengers pointing hazards out to you that you haven’t seen or don’t see until later
  • Feeling uncomfortable in heavy traffic.

(more information at the TAC website:

But there may be another solution.  A lot of modern cars have collision avoidance systems, blind spot monitoring and sensors here there and everywhere.  While these probably ought to be avoided like Ebola for learner drivers, they are just what an older driver needs to rein in a wandering mind or to supplement slowing reactions, or to point out hazards when you don’t have a handy passenger to do this for you.  So there you have it:  permission to go and grab a new sports car for your old age!

Happy driving, no matter how old you are,



  1. Ron Thompson says:

    I don’t fully agree that the monitoring and avoidance systems of modern cars could be an advantage for older drivers. These systems create a lot of visual and audible (and tactile for lane monitoring systems) information that are likely to be additional distractions for drivers already struggling with normal road awareness.

    November 28th, 2014 at 2:17 pm