LEHI — The holidays often allow many to spend time with their parents and senior family members. It might also provide an opportunity to have a difficult conversation about when someone should surrender their driver's license.
Israel Ramos, 96, has been driving since he was 17 years old. He was a truck and taxi driver in Uruguay.
“So definitely, he knew how to drive,” explained Cristina Pitts, Ramos' daughter. But a few years ago, she started to worry about his driving.
“He just couldn’t see the distance,” she described. Pitts said he wasn’t stopping the car at the right time and loved to run yellow lights. “Or he will get mad if someone stopped and didn't run the yellow light," she added.
“We were just getting concerned,” Pitts explained.
She considered the safety of her father and her 94-year-old mother, Maria Ramos, who always accompanied her husband in the car, as well as the safety of other drivers on the road.
“We started to investigate ways to tell him,” Pitts said. She even tried to disable his car so it wouldn’t turn on, which didn’t faze her father. “Right away, (he) figured out what was missing,” she said.
One day, Ramos became disoriented while he was driving. He said he was trying to figure out how to make a U-turn and pulled off in an unsafe place. An officer saw his car and approached him. Ramos said the policeman requested his keys and took his license away.
Ramos was devastated to lose his license, especially since he has been driving his entire life. “That’s the only thing I have done in my life,” he said, with the help of a translator.
Pitts said they went six times to the DMV for her father to take the driver’s test again, but he couldn’t pass. The test was even more complicated now because Utah now requires everyone to take the test in English, rather than Spanish, which is his native language.
Ramos was terribly frustrated, but his daughter said she was relieved.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” Pitts said. In her mind, she thought, “This is great. I don’t have to be the mean guy.”
Utah Department of Transportation spokesman Zach Whitney said the safety of others on the road is at risk. “If we can save a life by having a difficult conversation, it's a conversation worth having,” he said.
If a family member or friend is concerned about a driver who may unsafe, they can submit an Unsafe Driver Review through the Utah Department of Public Safety for further evaluation and testing. After review, the driver the driver may be given restricted driving privileges if they can meet the minimum requirements, or may have their license revoked.
Whitney encourages families to suggest alternative means of transportation for their aging parents, such as ride-sharing apps or public transportation.
Today, Pitts jokes that Ramos has a new set of wheels: his walker, which is the only thing he drives now. He said he feels bad relying on his kids for transportation, but his kids said they’ll do anything to keep him around longer though.
“Safety first,” Pitts stated.
She encourages other families to be kind to their parents when having a similar conversation and to look at it from the parent's of view.
“I think that conversation has to be looking at where they’re coming from. You have to know they were independent. They were the drivers ... so go easy. Be understanding,” Pitts said.
Pitts also said she tries to find new ways to help her parents feel independent at this stage of their life, like allowing them to have control of what happens inside their home.
“They’re the ones who make the decisions in this house,” she said.
Whitney also noted it's important not only to have a conversation about safety with people who are aging, but also with anyone who may be driving impaired, drowsy, distracted, aggressive or unbuckled.