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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Taking The Keys Away From An Elderly Driver

More and more adult children each year are facing the heart rending decision of taking the car keys away from elderly parents whose driving behavior has become a danger to themselves and others. This isn't an easy decision to make because it represents the older driver's sense of independence and dignity. For anyone facing this choice, there are some valuable tools to help you with your decision.

There is no set age at which a driver is no longer able to drive; some drivers maintain their vision, reflexes and physical abilities well into their 80s and 90s while others, due to diseases such as heart disease or diabetes may face the decision of giving up their license in their 50s. The data shows that older people, due to their fragility and health issues stand a greater chance of becoming a fatality in a traffic collision but the good news, from an Insurance Institute for Highway (IIHS) study released in December, shows that the death rate for older drivers declined steadily between 1997 and 2006 compared to drivers in other age groups. There is no definitive data showing why the death rate for older drivers has declined but it is felt that older drivers are "self limiting" their driving by no longer driving at night, making shorter trips and avoiding interstates. There is also a feeling that more drivers are surrendering their license on their own when they can no longer pass the vision test or they come to the conclusion on their own that they no longer possess the ability to drive safely.

For those that refuse to surrender their license, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) provides the following warning signs:

  • Feeling uncomfortable and nervous or fearful while driving
  • Dents and scrapes on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs etc.
  • Difficulty staying in the lane of travel
  • Getting lost
  • Trouble paying attention to signals, road signs and pavement markings
  • Slower response to unexpected situations
  • Medical conditions or medications that may be affecting the ability to handle the car safely
  • Frequent "close calls" (i.e. almost crashing)
  • Trouble judging gaps in traffics at intersections and on highway entrance/exit ramps
  • Other drivers honking at you and instances when you are angry at other drivers
  • Friends or relatives not wanting to drive with you
  • Difficulty seeing the sides of the road when looking straight ahead
  • Easily distracted or having a hard time concentrating while driving
  • Having a hard time turning around to check over your shoulder while backing up or changing lanes
  • Frequent traffic tickets or "warnings" by traffic or law enforcement officers in the last year or two

    The child, relative or caregiver concerned about the safety of an older driver should follow these steps:

  • Start a dialogue with the older driver expressing your concerns
  • Suggest that the driver limit their driving to avoid night driving or long trips.
  • Review any medications or medical issues that could diminish the driver's reflexes and vision or stress causing issues that could affect their driving behavior.
  • Travel along with the older driver and either videotape or keep notes of missed signs, near misses, confusion etc. Unless you need to intervene to prevent a collision, don't comment during the drive; it will only make the driver more nervous. Review your findings after the trip.
  • Consult with the driver’s doctors to see if any medical issues may limit the driver's abilities to drive safely.
  • Hold an intervention with family members and concerned friends to try to convince the driver to voluntarily stop driving.
  • If all else fails and you feel the situation is too dangerous, take the keys and remove the car.

    The IIHS has a list of state laws concerning elderly drivers at

    Drivers in metropolitan areas who are physically unable to drive may be eligible for door to door paratransit transportation. To see if paratransit transportation services are available in your area, visit

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