Dear Jody: Partner Can't Drive


Partner can't drive

Q:

My partner and I are getting up in years. We're both doing OK, but we have our problems. My partner "Jane" is having more problems than I am and it scares me. She has balance issues, heart problems and emphysema. But what scares me most is that she does stupid things, given her limitations. She doesn't think she has limitations, which is one issue, but when it comes to the car and driving, it gets downright scary.

Jane has never been a good driver; adequate I guess, but not good. Well, now, she is worse. In fact, I would say that she's a danger on the road. She just doesn't seem to see things coming her way, either in front of her or to the side. Jane has a tendency to drift across the line in the road that separates traffic going in opposite directions. She can't parallel park anymore without bumping the car in front of her and the one in the back. (She seems to find it funny when she hits them. She says that she's just giving herself a little room by moving these cars out of her way.)

I can drive, but she has mostly been the driver in our relationship and sees that as her thing. But now I'm getting really scared to ride with her. Not only that but when I try to point out that she's doing something that is dangerous or scary, she gets angry and we get into a fight about it. The other day she was driving in on-coming traffic - not the first time. When I told her that, she got mad, said that she knew it and then finally moved over, scaring the crap out of me and, I'm sure, the on-coming vehicle. I have let both her kids know about this but they don't know what to do anymore than I do. Do you have any ideas?

Terrified Passenger

A: I know how difficult this problem is because I have had to deal with this situation with my ageing parents. I have a few suggestions for you:

For starters, AARP offers a Driver Safety Program for older people. You can find out about this by going to their website. They have these programs all over the country. However, if her situation is beyond this kind of help, I suggest speaking to her physician. Have a list in hand of all the symptoms/behaviors you have noticed with her, even if they don't seem relevant to her driving issues. There may be some medical reasons - such as her medications - that are interfering with her cognitive abilities. If the doctor can't help with medication or changing her medication so that Jane is safe on the road, she may come up with enough of a medical reason to be able to tell Jane that she can't drive anymore. If there is not enough medical reasons to account for her driving problems - at least that her doctor can determine - you could get together with her kids and sit down and talk about this with Jane, like an intervention. This should be discussed firmly but also with compassion. Suggesting that a person give up her independence - through driving - is a very difficult subject. Think about how it would feel to you. Another thing you can do is alert those at the Department of Motor Vehicles, so that when she goes in for her next driver's license renewal, she'll be sure to get a driving test. Sometimes they will act immediately. Chances are your partner is better some times during the day than other times, so make sure she goes in for testing during her more dangerous times of the day. Good luck. Your partner is not only a danger to herself, but to you and others on the road, so keep on it.

If you have an elderly parent or family member who is having problems driving, and you want to know more about what you can do, go to Dear Jody Valley on Facebook.

Jody Valley spent 12 years as a clinical social worker. She worked with the LGBT community both as a counselor and a workshop leader in the areas of coming out, self-esteem and relationship issues. The "Dear Jody" column appears weekly. Letters may be edited for clarity and length.
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