Senior citizens and driving don’t mix sometimes. Drivers over the age of 70 have higher crash rates than their middle-aged counterparts, and they’re more likely to be killed in crashes because they’re more susceptible to injury.
As we age, mobility issues, vision changes and hearing loss can impair our ability to drive safely. Many senior citizens know their own limitations and make the proper adjustments. They avoid long hours behind the wheel, or decide not to drive after dark. Yet some seniors may need some persuasion to re-evaluate their driving. How do you know when that time has come, and what should you do?
Why Seniors Want to Keep Driving
If you’re concerned about the driving of a senior in your life, keep a few things in mind. Before approaching a parent or grandparent about giving up their keys, prepare for the emotional roller-coaster involved. Senior citizens want to drive for the same reason anyone does: independence.
Try to remember when you first got your own driver’s license. You no longer had to take public transportation, or bum a ride from a friend. Remember the pride and freedom you felt when you were finally able to just hop in your car and go?
With failing health, many senior citizens feel that driving is one of the few things that allow them continued freedom. It prevents them from becoming a shut-in or a burden to others. Many fear they’ll only be able to remain in contact with friends and family members if they can drive themselves.
So before you park the car permanently, or wrestle grandpa for his keys, think about what a huge, life-changing decision it will be.
Signs a Senior Should Not Drive
The AARP offers some warning signals that may indicate that a senior citizen should quit driving, or that they may need to add a few restrictions to their driving. Among the signs:
Frequent Accidents: Driving restrictions may be necessary if an unusual number of accidents occur. Whether the incidents are serious or minor, evaluate the situation with care. Come up with restrictions that will lessen the chance of a future accident.
Discovering New Damages: New scrapes, scratches or dents to a senior citizen’s vehicle are clear signals that some driving privileges need modification.
Sudden Increase in Traffic Violations: If your money is going to traffic tickets, and then to higher insurance rates, it’s time to take a look at the cause. Make the necessary corrections to keep those dollars in your wallet.
Visual and Hearing Problems: Do you or your loved one underestimate gaps in the flow of traffic? Have difficulties viewing traffic signals, pavement markings, or street signs? These are clear signs that it is time for an eye exam. If a driver has difficulty seeing well after dark, they may need to restrict their driving to daylight conditions. If they can’t hear sirens well, they may need a hearing test.
Losing The Way: Heading to a new destination is often cause for getting a little lost. But if you or your loved one has difficulties finding your way around your own neighborhood, a bigger problem exists. If you rely on GPS to get you home from the grocery store, have a medical examination as this is a possible sign of conditions like Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Troubles with Mobility: Mobility troubles while driving can be a serious issue. Every driver must be able to turn the wheel in a moment’s notice and look at blind spots. Too often there are darting children, cyclists and other dangers. If your mobility causes a delay in these movements, it’s time to consider hanging up the keys.
Slow Response Times: Many senior citizens experience slower reaction times, which is natural. However, it prevents them from missing that sudden traffic collision up ahead. Unexpected and sudden situations can also cause pedal confusion, such as pressing the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal. Slow reaction times and confusion can cause harm to yourself and others. In 2003, for instance, an 86-year-old man killed 10 people in Santa Monica, California, in a crash blamed on “pedal error.”
How States Test and License Senior Drivers
If you or someone you love is experiencing these dangerous issues with driving, you might consider retaking the driving test. Depending on your age and state, that might even be a requirement.
Driving laws and requirements for seniors vary from state to state. You can search your state’s specific laws on AAA’s Digest of Motor Laws, or check with your state’s department of motor vehicles. Many states require senior citizens to renew their driver licenses in person and/or to take a vision test. Some states may, in addition, require a written test or a driving test.
Examples of license-renewal laws for seniors in major retirement states:
Arizona: “Extended” driver licenses expire at age 65, at which point they must be renewed every five years. New applicants 60 and older get a five-year license. A vision test is required for renewal.
California: Drivers 70 and older when their license expires must pass a vision exam and a knowledge test.
Florida: Drivers 80 and older have to pass a vision test.
Georgia: Drivers 64 and older must pass an in-person vision test when their license comes up for renewal. This test requires a field of vision of at least 140 degrees.
Texas: Extra scrutiny for a license renewal doesn’t kick in in Texas until age 79. Drivers that age and older must undergo a vision test, a basic medical evaluation, and possibly a driving test.
In addition, most states will immediately suspend any driver’s license if they are involved in an accident due to a medical condition. Some seniors must show medical records to prove that physical disabilities will not impair their driving. Also, some senior citizens have restricted licenses. These licenses may prevent them from driving after dark, in severe weather, or with other conditions.
Alternatives to Driving for Seniors
Whether you are questioning your own abilities to continue driving, or if you’re concerned about a senior family member, take action. It’s always best to be safe now rather than sorry later. You might at least consider taking a driver safety class from the AARP or AAA. You could even get an insurance discount for completing a course.
Remember, not driving doesn’t have to equal losing independence. Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are offering seniors alternative transportation options. Public transportation is improving in many cities.
In the end, getting around doesn’t have to mean getting behind the wheel.