Elder Drivers: When is it Time to Stop Driving?

elderly driver holding tightly

Most motorists have encountered elder drivers on the road who are holding up traffic by driving too slow, perhaps appear confused, or seem indecisive.  And frequently, we chalk it up to life, continue on our way, and think nothing much of it. But the truth is, elderly drivers have a higher risk of causing car accidents than younger drivers.  Although it may seem insensitive, it is worth considering whether such individuals should continue to drive.

Older man driving a car

The Centers for Disease Control reported that more than 5,700 elder drivers were killed in car crashes in 2014, and another 236,000 were injured. This means that 16 elder drivers died and 648 were injured per day in 2014. And of increasing concern is the fact that increased longevity, along with the Baby Boom generation aging, has produced a huge cohort of such drivers.  As of 2015, there are 40 million licensed drivers age 65 or older, a 50 percent increase since 1999. If you’re a senior driver, of the loved one of such an individual, there are some warning signs you should heed that it may be time to stop driving.

When Physical Ailments Affect Driving for Elder Drivers

According to AAA Senior Driving, 80 percent of people in their 70s have arthritis, a painful swelling of the joints. If this condition is in the upper extremities, it can affect how well elder drivers can turn the steering wheel and react quickly to unexpected maneuvers, such as another car making a lane change. Arthritis in the hips or below might affect that person’s ability to brake effectively.  Additionally, many elder drivers also suffer from muscles that have weakened, which means they are not able to press down on either the brake or the accelerator with the same force as younger drivers. This can result in longer braking times, or slower acceleration speeds when a car is merging into traffic, for example.

When Eyesight Fails

Eyesight is an obvious concern in the elderly. As people age, their vision tends to become less and less clear, typically due to ailments such as glaucoma and cataracts. This may be true even if elder drivers wear corrective lenses, because a disease such as glaucoma cannot be improved with eyeglasses. If you’re a senior driver with an eye condition, it is very important for you to consult with your ophthalmologist or optician to determine whether your vision is good enough to continue driving.

Elder drivers with poor vision are less likely to distinguish between objects at a distance, which can compromise their ability to take evasive actions if something goes wrong on the road.  It can make if particularly difficult to judge the speed of another vehicle at night, for example. Weakened vision and night driving are always a bad combination, truthfully. Older drivers who can’t see well during the day will have even more difficulty if they choose to drive at night, and should avoid it if at all possible.

When Elder Drivers Suffer A Major Health Event

It can take many months – or even years – for an individual to recover from a major health event such as a heart attack or stroke. And because these major health events often result in the need to take medications after recovery, it may be advisable to consult with your doctor about the pros and cons of resuming driving. Elder drivers who take prescription medications are often advised to curb their driving activities, because many of these drugs may make them drowsy or less able to concentrate.

When Elder Drivers Are Diagnosed With a Mental Health Illness

Sadly, more than five million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, an increasingly common type of dementia that affects memory, cognition, focus and concentration. Alzheimer’s causes more deaths than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, and 33 percent of all seniors will die due to Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

In some states, doctors who have diagnosed a patient with Alzheimer’s must report this diagnosis to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). In states with this requirement, doctors must also provide their professional opinion as to whether a patient diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia can safely operate a motor vehicle.

If you have been diagnosed with a mental health illness, it is very important that you consult with your physician about your driving. Your state DMV may require you to undergo a driving assessment (discussed more below) and, depending on your condition, your license may be restricted or revoked if it is determined that your cognitive abilities are below safety standards.

When There Are Too Many Near-Crashes

Another sign that older drivers may need to stop driving is after multiple close calls or near-crashes. A driver who has had several incidents on the road in which they nearly caused an accident with another vehicle, or ran a stop sign or traffic light, or collided with a parked car or fence, is sending out warning signals. It’s likely this person’s reaction time, focus and ability to make safe decisions is compromised.

What State Motor Vehicle Departments Are Doing About Elder Drivers

As mentioned earlier, some states require physicians to report a driver with a medical condition that may make motor vehicle operation unsafe. Arizona does not have such a law, but doctors who make this report in good faith are indemnified from civil or criminal liability.

Only six states require physicians to report a driver with a cognitive impairment (California, Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania). However, 40 percent of states require a shorter license renewal period for drivers older than 65.

In Arizona, drivers who are 65 or older must renew their license every five years instead of every 12 years, and they must also take a vision test. If a doctor has submitted a report to the Arizona DMV regarding a possible medical impairment of a driver, that driver must take a written test, and may also be subjected to a road assessment to determine competence.

Any driver in Arizona who has had a seizure within the past three months must discontinue driving, report their medical event to the motor vehicle department, and obtain medical clearance before resuming driving. Common license restrictions in Arizona include:

  • Wearing corrective lenses
  • Driving from sunrise to sunset
  • Driving in a specific geographical area
  • Driving with an additional side mirror

With these protocols, state motor vehicle departments are trying to keep elder drivers – and those who share the road with them – safer.

Get An Experienced Advocate

Accidents involving elder drivers are still a problem that can’t be completely solved. If you have suffered injuries in an accident caused by an older driver, it is important that you contact an experienced law firm to protect your rights and to help obtain fair compensation. Please contact Miller Kory Rowe LLP today at (602) 461-8640 for a free legal consultation.

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