Senior Connection

Aug 23, 2009

When Is It Time To Stop?

As a senior citizen was driving down the freeway, his car phone rang. Answering, he heard his wife's voice urgently warning him, "Herman, I just heard on the news that there's a car going the wrong way on 280. Please be careful!" "Hell," said Herman, "It's not just one car. It's hundreds of them!"

This joke is becoming decreasingly humorous as the media covers more and more fatal car accidents involving elderly drivers. As a caregiver, you might have three generations of drivers to be concerned about: your children, yourself, and now your elders. You feel the heavy burden of trying to keep everyone safe. Telling your elder that they cannot drive may be even more difficult than telling your children that they can.

Rather than gaining freedom, as in the case with new drivers, losing a license would be taking that same freedom away. Driving may be the means by which elders go shopping, visit friends and family, attend medical appointments, or go to a show. If you take away their license, they have to rely on others in order to continue with their usual schedule. If you don’t take away their license, they may be putting themselves and others in danger, possibly without knowing that they are doing so.

The issue of elderly driving is controversial. While some people claim that driving skills vary from one elder to another, just as with any other age group, there are deficits in aging that very much affect the way someone is capable of driving. Aging Parents and Elder Care cites that there can be a slowing of response time, hearing and/or vision loss, muscle strength and flexibility loss, and drowsiness as a side effect of medication or a lower tolerance to alcohol.

The National Motor Association “does not support frequent re-testing or age-based restrictions” based on their reasoning “neither has been found to be effective in identifying and preventing problem drivers, in any age segment of the population (NMA). Another article presents the opinion that “this isn't about statistics. This is about common sense. The idea that, after an initial road test, the only thing the state of Massachusetts tests drivers for is their eyesight is patently ludicrous. Massachusetts is one of only three states that has no additional requirements or road tests as drivers’ age” (Cullen, 2009).

One option is being put into action in Iowa. They have introduced a requirement that drivers age 70 and older renew their licenses in person. If a DMV official suspects a problem, drivers may be asked to take a road test. They may then choose between taking the standard test or a newly devised “local” test. If they opt for the latter, an examiner will evaluate them on their usual route—to the store, to church, to the doctor and so on. Those who pass the local test are licensed only on that route and may also be restricted to lower speeds and daylight-only driving (Russo, F., 2005).

If either you or your elder are not convinced that the subject of elderly driving needs more attention now and in the future, here are some facts provided by “Night Vision and Driving: How Safe Are Older Motorists”:

· “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 6,512 people — 15 percent of all Americans who were killed on the road in 2005 — were 65 or older.”

· “According to a Vision Council report released in the fall of 2006, the 10 states with the highest rate of fatal crashes included four that required no vision screening for license renewal and four that require only screenings at intervals of eight or more years.”

· “Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury in adults between 65 and 75 years old, and the second leading cause of injury to those 75 or older, according to the CDC.”

· “When measured by crashes per mile driven, data show a substantial rise in crashes by driver over age 70, according to the American Association of Retired Persons.”

By 2030, one of four drivers will be 65 or older so the more effectively we address elderly driving issues, the safer the roads will be (Russo, F., 2005). Be a responsible citizen and use your best judgment to do what is best.


To Enhance The Quality Of Life For Area Seniors And Their Caregivers, The Central Massachusetts Agency On Aging Will Provide Leadership, Information And Resources, Coordination Of Services And Advocacy.