The Federal Highway Administration reports that drivers age 70 and older experience more motor vehicle fatalities than any other driving group, with the exception of drivers under age 20. Aging affects each of us differently and when chronic illnesses are also present; there can be a decline in physical and cognitive abilities. While many elders learn to compensate successfully for any cognitive or functional limitations, sometimes it does become necessary to let someone else do the driving. Remember that medications can sometimes have a negative impact on driving ability at any age. A change in vision will also present challenges for driver safety.
First, take an assessment of the elder’s driving capability and begin thinking of alternate transportation resources to introduce to them at the same time you have the discussion to transfer the keys. You may want to begin with limiting night-time driving as a first step, as this will give the elder a chance to learn how to plan ahead when needing someone else to assist with transportation. Once they are accustomed to not driving at night and realize they still have access to alternate transportation, you can more easily adapt this to daytime driving too.
If you feel that it is unsafe for the elder to continue to drive, and you feel they will not be accepting of this, it may be a good idea to first discuss this with their physician. The doctor can do a test of their vision, hearing and reflexes and begin the conversation about how declined functionalities may negatively impact their ability to drive safely.
Although this is a tough decision to make, at the same time no one wants to be responsible for an accident which may have been preventable. The high rate of driving fatalities involving elders includes incidents of pedestrians who are hit by elder drivers.
The tragic 2003 Santa Monica farmer’s market accident left 10 people dead and 63 injured after George Weller, age 86 at the time, accidently accelerated on the gas pedal, instead of the brake pedal. He unfortunately had previous accidents and there were reports that neighbors and others had witnessed unsafe driving by him.
As you discuss the need for a change in driving with the elder, if you feel they are resistant, share with them your concern for other’s safety, as well as their own safety. You may be able to ask their physician to write a letter stating it is unsafe for them to drive if they are taking certain medications or suffering from memory loss.
You may contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles to request the license be revoked. Each state has different requirements for elder drivers – it may be possible that the elder will not be able to pass their license renewal test anyway. Check the criteria for your state to find out how they might be able to help you terminate the driver’s license.
Applause Home Care – Your Trusted Elder Safe Driving Checklist in North NJ.