Difficult Decisions: Driving

Photo:  Cristofer Maximilian

One of the most awkward and stress-inducing conversations that loved ones have while caring for a person living with dementia is the question of whether the person living with dementia should continue to operate a motor vehicle. The loss of a driver’s license is symbolic of the loss of independence, and many loved ones are unsure of how to navigate this awkward discussion, if they become concerned about safe driving of a person living with dementia.

As cognitive abilities are clouded and decline through the progression of the disease, when is the right time to bring up this conversation, and how does one do so without jeopardizing the relationship, causing an angry outburst?  Loved ones have reported being hesitant because raising the topic for discussion will certainly cause angst in the harmony of the relationship between caregiver and care recipient; however, over time, there can be a sense of moral responsibility to ensure that unsafe drivers are not continuing to drive.  Many caregivers are unsure what to do.  Further, physicians also report that they often face this question from caregivers in their clinics, and that the conversations are awkward, emotionally charged and difficult.

Here’s the simple answer:  in Alberta, anyone (caregiver or not) is entitled to report a concern about any other driver on the road, and it will be handled confidentially.  Caregivers can breathe a sigh of relief, and complete the information needed to file the report. The report requires that an individual provide some basic information about the driver to whom the concern relates- name, address, driver’s license, date of birth, known medical conditions that may affect the safe driving of the individual. The reports can be submitted electronically, or by mail or fax.

Once a report is received, the Driver Fitness and Monitoring will review the report and identify what is required to determine the driver’s fitness to drive.  The individual submitting the report may be contacted for more information.  The Registrar has the authority to require the driver to submit for a medical or physical exam; place special conditions or restrictions on their license; or may suspend the license.

The confidentiality of the individual filing the report is protected.  Under section 60.1 of the Traffic Safety Act (Alberta), information received about unsafe drivers is confidential.  Further, under section 17 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Alberta), the circumstances and/or actions surrounding the subject of the report will also not be disclosed.  The process has been designed to ensure that individuals who have concerns about drivers will not be faced with retribution from the one about whom a report was confidentially filed.

Whether you are caring for a loved one with dementia, or have concerns about any other driver who you believe might be unsafe on the roads, the report can be securely made confidentially.  The Government of Alberta has a website about how to report a concern about a driver, with more information found at the following link: https://www.alberta.ca/report-a-concern-about-driver-fitness.aspx.