Old age alone is no reason to give up driving, but the changes that come with getting older can interfere with your ability to drive safely. For example, stiffness or joint pain can make it harder for you to turn your head or the steering wheel, and problems with your vision and hearing can make it unsafe to drive.
Ultimately, there is no set age for an elderly person to give up driving. According to Kaiser Permanente, however, most people drive for 7 to 10 years longer than they should.
Facts and Figures on Older Adult Drivers From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The number of older drivers on the road has increased by 60% since 2000, and in 2018, there were 45 million licensed drivers aged 65 and older in the United States. In 2019, about 8,000 older adults were killed in traffic accidents, and more than 250,000 were treated in emergency departments for accident-related injuries.
Despite these troubling statistics, older adults generally engage in safer drivers than other age groups. As long as older drivers have their eyes checked regularly and watch for the warning signs of unsafe driving, they should be able to prevent older driver deaths and injuries.
What Causes Driving Difficulties in Older Adults?
Aging is natural, and the symptoms of aging inevitably make driving more difficult. In addition to slower reflexes and hearing and vision problems, health conditions and chronic illnesses can compromise driving agility and judgement.
Older adults with Parkinson’s disease, for instance, can experience tremors that make it difficult to control their vehicles, and elderly people with dementia can become confused during complex driving maneuvers or get lost on familiar roadways.
Similarly, vision impairment can take away a driver’s ability to see clearly, and “90 percent of the information needed to drive safely relates to the ability to see clearly.” Hearing impairment is another problem because it can undermine an older driver’s ability to hear horns, screeching tires, sirens, and other sounds that may indicate unsafe driving conditions. According to the CDC, deterioration in vision increases significantly in people 75 and older, and one-third of adults over age 65 have hearing problems.
Aside from all of this, many elderly people take prescription drugs, herbal remedies, and over-the-counter medications to help with the effects of aging. Some of these drugs can make people drowsy and otherwise impair driving ability, especially when combined with other supplements or medications.
Older drivers must be especially careful about prescription drug use and drug interactions.
What Are the Warning Signs of an Unsafe Elderly Driver?
Many of the changes that come with aging come on gradually, so elderly drivers might not realize when their driving is no longer safe. Fortunately, there are warning signs older drivers and their loved ones can look out for. The warning signs of an unsafe elderly driver include:
- Traffic tickets
- Increases in car insurance rates
- Vehicle damage (including minor scratches and dents)
- Reluctance to drive
- Anxiety about driving
- Feeling stressed, confused, or exhausted while driving
- Not feeling physically comfortable behind the wheel
- Changes in driving behavior
- Other drivers honk frequently
- Trouble staying in lanes
- Fender benders and minor car accidents (bumping another car in traffic or scratching the car while parking)
- Getting lost, especially on familiar roads
If you are experiencing any of these changes, or you observe them in a loved one, schedule a doctor’s appointment or seek other resources to help. A professional assessment can help you and your loved one determine whether they can continue driving safely.
When speaking to your physician or eye doctor, be specific about your experiences, and do not hesitate to ask for their professional opinion. You can also schedule an appointment with a certified driver rehabilitation specialist (CDRS) who is trained to evaluate a person’s driving abilities and will easily recommend driving cessation if driving is no longer safe.
Meanwhile, a CDRS will not tell an older adult to stop driving if safe driving is still possible. Instead, they will help older drivers break bad habits, learn new skills, and install recommended safety devices on their vehicles. Neither elderly drivers nor concerned loved ones will be able to change a CDRS’s professional opinion.
If seeing a doctor or hiring a CDRS is not an option, older drivers can go to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for resources like driving improvement programs and driver self-assessments. As a last resort, an older driver’s loved ones can even file an unsafe driver report with the DMV.
Speaking to a DMV representative can help an older driver realize when it is time to stop driving, and the representative may order a medical examination and driving test to determine an elderly driver’s safety on the road.
How to Talk to an Elderly Loved One About Driving
Before recruiting the DMV, try to talk to your elderly loved one about driving. Caring.com has an entire guide about seniors and driving, including helpful tips for difficult conversations. One of the best things you can do when discussing the cessation of driving with an elderly relative is to present alternative options.
For example, you could encourage your loved one to reduce driving instead of quitting altogether, take a refresher course for driving skills and traffic laws, or switch to public transportation. With Uber, Lyft, and other rideshare options, it is easier than ever for older adults to get around without putting themselves – and others – in danger behind the wheel.
What If an Older Adult Gets in an Accident They Didn’t Cause?
One of the best arguments for convincing an older adult to stop driving is citing other crazy drivers on the road. With age, human bodies become much more fragile, so the idea of car accidents can be more daunting.
Sadly, older adults can endure more serious injuries during auto accidents, they may need more intensive treatment, and they are less likely to make a full recovery.
For this reason, families should always seek support after an elderly loved one is involved in a traffic collision. Hall & Collins Injury Law is proud to offer this support. Our legal team has more than 50 years of combined experience and offers personalized care in every case.
We have recovered millions of dollars for our clients, and we can help you pay off medical bills, offset missed wages, and cope with other accident-related losses.