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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
Attorney • (877) 377-7848

When is Someone Too Old to Drive?

3 comments

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says there are more than 22-million drivers in America aged 70 and older.  As baby boomers age the number will nearly double by the year 2030.  Even though the crash rate for older drivers is actually down from 10 years ago, when there are accidents the chances of a fatality are higher.

A 79-year-old Florida woman backing her Chevrolet Tahoe SUV out of a church parking space struck seven elderly pedestrians before her vehicle landed partially submerged in a pond.  Three of the pedestrians died, the other four were taken to the hospital in serious condition.

According to reports, after the woman backed out of the handicapped space and began moving forward, she was unable to clear a parked car. When the woman backed up again, she hit the pedestrians.  The vehicle continued in reverse running over a curb, and hitting small tress before landing in the pond.  It is still unclear why she continued backwards after hitting the pedestrians, but witnesses speculate that the woman thought she had put the vehicle back in drive.  The driver told witnesses that “somehow the pedal got stuck.”

This incident raises the question – “When is someone too old to drive?”  Although older drivers generally become more conservative on the road – they will modify their driving habits, and avoid busy highways or driving at night – are they really safe?  Many states currently have accelerated license renewal cycles. If a person’s continued fitness to drive is in doubt, state licensing agencies may require renewal applicants to undergo physical or mental examinations or retake the standard licensing tests (vision, written and road). States typically have medical review boards composed of health care professionals who advise on licensing standards and on individual cases in which a person’s ability to drive safely is in doubt.

More frequent trips to the DMV may not be enough.  What can you do to help?  Here are a few tips to consider on how to make an evaluation on a parent or loved one’s driving ability.

Vision – Conditions like cataracts and glaucoma, common among the elderly, can worsen eyesight and make driving dangerous. Adequate visual acuity and field of vision tend to decline with age. Glare and adjusting to changes in lightness and darkness are other problems commonly experienced by older drivers.

Cognition – Driving requires a high-level cognitive skills, including memory, visual processing, attention, and executive skills.  If your loved one suffers from any level of dementia, driving is not a good idea.

Motor function – Older drivers may no longer have the motor skills to handle the wheel and brakes.  Changes related to age and musculoskeletal diseases (such as arthritis) can decrease an individual’s ability to drive safety and comfortably.

Medications: Read the labels on your loved one’s medication, and ask your doctor or pharmacist about potentially problematic drug interactions to find out if your loved one shouldn’t be driving while on his or her medications.

Accidents: Has your loved one had one or two minor fender-benders in the recent past?

If you and your loved one decide that your loved one should no longer be driving, remind them that just because the driving days are over doesn’t mean the days of freedom and independence are over too. Check for a listing of senior transportation services or make arrangements with family and friends.

3 Comments

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  1. andreaschaerf@gmail.com says:
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    People of all ages have the conditions listed above that make it riskier to drive. I think the medical conditions and their impact need addressed rather than merely looking at age. It wouldnt target the elderly but target unsafe drivers

  2. Matt Gurwell says:
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    Great article, Attorney Bello.

    May I add that Keeping Us Safe is a national organization that provides practical, real-life solutions to older drivers and their families.

    “Beyond Driving with Dignity; The workbook for older drivers and their families” serves as the foundation of our family-centered “Beyond Driving with Dignity” program.

    The program is designed to help older drivers with diminishing driving skills make a smooth transition from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat without deterioration to their dignity, personal pride or independence.

    This program provides families with the missing link between their desire to bring this issue to a peaceful resolution, and their ability to actually do so.

    We also offer our Certified “Beyond Driving with Dignity” Professionals who have been specifically trained and certified in the “Enhanced Self-Assessment Program” for older drivers.

    Families benefit from a third-party, impartial intervention in resolving this very delicate and sensitive issue. Certified “Beyond Driving with Dignity” Professionals can be found throughout the US and Canada.

    Our programs are designed to save lives while helping to ease the burden of the family as they find themselves faced with this very challenging issue.

    Keeping Us Safe’s “self-assessment program” for older drivers has become a respected resource for physicians, hospital systems, and court systems looking for help for older drivers and their concerned families.

    For more information on our programs, or to learn more about becoming one of the Nation’s Certified “Beyond Driving with Dignity” Professionals, visit Keeping Us Safe at http://www.keepingussafe.org or call us at 877-907-8841.

  3. Vern Dennis says:
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    This is actually an impossible question to answer as each case must be consiidered on its own merits. I do agree that after a certain age, driver fitness should be tested on a more frequest basis. I’d suggest every two years at age 72 and annually at age 80 unless s
    something has been noted to suggest more frequent evaluations are needed

    It helps having family members who can keep tabs on their loved ones, but there is a fairly large group of elderly that have no one and I’m not sure what can be done about that other than to set up scheduled evaluations.