Mike Lama drives his mother on her errands every Thursday. He figures it's the least he can do after taking the 90-year-old's car keys away.
Lama's mother Grace has a history of fainting spells and he was constantly worried she would black out while driving. "Her own physical response has been my concern. Her ability to quickly react has been an issue for me for quite a while," Lama said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.
While he said he did not want to take away his mother's ability to drive, he, like many adult children with elderly parents, felt it was his duty. Yet when Lama and the rest of the family decided it was time to stop Grace from driving, she didn't agree.
"No way!" she complained. "I felt like I was a good driver. I've always been independent. I've always had a car of some kind."
Grace even snuck the car out once to drive herself to the store after her family asked her not to drive anymore. "I felt guilty about it — and I never did it again," she recalled.
Lama is sympathetic: "Having to give that up, I think, is [an] extremely difficult thing for the rest of us to understand."
Her family eventually sold Grace's car and now she relies on her son, friends, relatives or a shuttle service for senior citizens to get around.
"So, it's final," Grace said. I'm adjusting."
Road Tests Get Protests
In most states it is up to an elderly driver's family to decide whether or aged drivers should continue to get behind the wheel.
Illinois and New Hampshire are the only states that require older drivers to pass road tests before their licenses can be renewed. In both states, drivers more than 75 years old must pass an on-the-road test before they can get behind the wheel on their own again.
In some states, efforts to introduce tough driving tests for elderly drivers have failed outright. In California, for example, the 86-year-old man who on Wednesday crashed into a Santa Monica Farmer's market with deadly results would have been required to pass an on-road test when he renewed his license two years ago if a recent reform effort had not been defeated.
California's Bill 335, introduced by former state Sen. Tom Hayden and approved in 2000, had a requirement that anyone 75 or older must pass an on-the-road test. But the requirement was dropped after senior citizens' groups protested.
So when laws won't do the job, argued Good Morning America's parenting contributor Ann Pleshette Murphy, it's the responsibility of the elderly driver's children to do it instead.
Yet there are ways adult children can manage the stressful, and often awkward, task of testing their parents' driving abilities, Murphy suggested.
"Get in the car with them when they're behind the wheel so you can see how they're doing," Murphy said. If the elderly driver doesn't seem to have an acceptable reaction time or if the driver seems unsure and confused, their family will have to act, she added.
If an elderly driver has a negative response to the family's pleas, it may be time to turn to others for help, said Murphy.
"If you have to bring in a higher authority, you can go to a doctor's appointment with your parent. You can also have the parent take a test. The AARP and The National Safety Council will offer a safe driving test," she added..
Look for Signs of Diminished Capacity
As a family physician in Shreveport, La., Dr. Michael O. Fleming has experience with elderly patients who continue to drive despite problems.