Driving Archives

When to Take the Keys from Older Driver

One of these days, as an older driver, we might become such a hazard on the road that it is best that we no longer drive. None of us is looking forward to that day. According to the January 2011 issue of Consumer Reports, in 2008 78% of Americans 70 and older had a driver’s license. That’s a rise of 73% compared to 1997 and reported by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They expect the number to keep rising as baby boomers age. What is disturbing is that our vision, response time, and neuromuscular control worsen with age. As well, cognitive abilities including memory, perception, reasoning, and thinking can also decline.

People with mild dementia are higher-risk drivers, but as many as 76% are still able to pass a driver’s test. The American Academy of Neurology has issued guidelines to help doctors determine when their patients with dementia should stop driving. Among them are:

  • Crash in the past year to five years
  • Citation in the past two to three years
  • Aggressive impulsive personality

Other ailments that can impede driving are:

  • Glaucoma
  • Angina
  • Arthritis
  • Respiratory illness
  • Neurologic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease

In determining when to take the keys from an older driver, Orly Avitzur, MD, a board-certified neurologist and medical adviser to Consumers Union suggests the following:

Taking away the keys is more than just not being able to drive. There is a loss of independence. Going anywhere means depending on someone else so there are many issues to be resolved.

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Are Older Drivers Dangerous?

Insurance InstituteIn a report published last year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, they stated:  Despite growing numbers on the road, fewer older drivers died in crashes and fewer were involved in fatal collisions during 1997-2006 than in years past…. Crash deaths among drivers 70 and older fell 21 percent during the period, reversing an upward trend, even as the population of people 70 and older rose 10 percent. Compared with drivers ages 35-54, older drivers experienced much bigger declines in fatal crash involvements. Reasons for the fatality declines aren’t clear, but another new Institute study indicates that older adults increasingly self-limit driving as they age and develop physical and cognitive impairments.

In a periodical, onHealth, published by Consumer Reports, they indicate that although many older people practice self-regulation, many more need to do it. They report that people 75 and over are still in more car crashes per mile driven than any other group other than teenagers. Here is their recommendation:

  • Avoid night driving (If you have cataracts or glaucoma or use eyedrops for the problems, they can worsen night driving).
  • Stick to familiar routes and areas.
  • Check yourself out.
    • Get a hearing test and hearing aid, if necessary.
    • Control diabetes — to avoid the possible loss of sensation in your feet.
    • Consider occupational or physical therapy if you’re hampered by arthritis or Parkinson’s or recovering from a stroke.
  • Watch your medications which could impede driving by causing dizziness or confusion (antihistimines, antidepressants, long-acting sleeping pills)

If a family member should stop driving, but won’t, contact AARP (888.687.2277) or www.aarp.org/families/driver_safety. Check on the safety education classes as well. It could mean a reduction for your auto insurance. This is a good thing, don’t you think?

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