How old is “too old to drive”? No one answer is applicable to every driver. As a family member or loved one advances in years, it’s important to watch for signs that may signal that it’s no longer safe for them to be on the road.
Understanding what those signs look like and when to step in for the safety of your loved one and others on the road is a delicate and personal decision. But it should not be overlooked. AAA estimates that the majority of older drivers are still driving past the point of being able to operate a vehicle capably and safely, by as much as seven to 10 years.
It’s a difficult decision to face. Unfortunately, many friends and family members of elderly people do not have those conversations until it is too late and an accident has occurred.
HOW DANGEROUS ARE ELDERLY DRIVERS?
Age may be “just a number,” but there are several factors affecting you as you age that can have a direct, negative impact on your ability to be a safe driver. Most people experience a decline in their vision and a loss of strength as they age. Your reflexes and ability to react quickly are also impacted by the aging process. Many older people suffer from arthritis, which can have a crippling effect on the hands, limiting ability to grip and steer properly, as well as flexibility needed to turn and twist the head and torso in the operation of a vehicle.
It’s also worth considering what medications an older person might be taking. Some medications cause drowsiness, which inhibits the ability to drive safely.
All of these factors can result in devastating consequences. An elderly driver simply may not see a child darting into traffic, or someone crossing the road. They may be unable to properly navigate around a person on a bicycle. Bad weather may impact their vision such that they aren’t able to see traffic lights and stop signs as well as they should. They may be unable to react quickly enough to stop if there’s a traffic jam ahead or an object in the road.
NO TIME FOR PRIDE
For some people, it is a point of pride and independence that they keep driving past their particular age of safety, and they ignore signs and signals that are nature’s way of communicating to us that operating heavy machinery like a car or truck is becoming dangerous. But it is important to recognize the signs and step in before something terrible happens. If your elderly loved one becomes involved in an accident, you may wish you had acted sooner.
Elderly drivers are more frail, and so the damage caused to them if they are involved in an accident is likely to be much more serious than to a younger person involved in a crash. Car accidents are a real danger to elderly people.
In 2015, more than 6,800 older adults were killed and more than 260,000 were treated in emergency departments after they were involved in motor vehicle crashes, an average of 19 older people dying per day, just because of car crashes.
SIGNS YOUR ELDERLY LOVED ONE IS BECOMING A DANGER ON THE ROAD
Many people begin to naturally recognize that driving is becoming challenging, and they adjust their driving habits accordingly. Look for these signs and changes people tend to make in their own driving habits, which can signal that driving is potentially becoming dangerous for the person:
- Avoidance of night driving
- Avoidance of driving in bad weather
- Driving at slower speeds than the flow of regular traffic
- Avoidance or desire to avoid driving on highways or roads where traffic moves quickly
- Detailed planning of errand routes to avoid having to drive more often than is necessary
- Avoidance of social activities that involve driving to attend.
You may also observe behaviors when riding with an elderly person that are cause for concern and a sign that the day is coming when they should consider giving up driving. These are things such as sleepiness, inability to stay in their lane at all times/drifting, defensiveness about dangerous driving habits that are observed, etc.
HOW TO TELL AN ELDERLY RELATIVE TO STOP DRIVING
Nobody wants to be told what to do, and loss of driving privileges, even when the older person agrees it is time, can lead to depression and a feeling of a loss of control over their life; it is a loss of independence. Consider before you talk to someone that the person has likely been driving for many more years than you have, and take their pride into account before you start a difficult conversation.
Many older drivers can be safer than younger ones, as they are more likely to wear their seat belts, comply with posted speed limits, avoid risky driving maneuvers and distracted driving behaviors like texting, and are less likely to drive while impaired by drugs or alcohol. The person may become defensive or fearful and bring up behaviors they participate in which they believe make them a safer driver than many others on the road. But if you feel it’s time to have the conversation with someone, it’s because you’ve seen or heard or experienced factors which should not be ignored. Unsafe drivers of any age should not be on the road.
STARTING THE CONVERSATION
Come prepared with solutions and options for alternative ways the person can get around or that their errands can be completed that do not involve them driving, and present those at the time of the conversation. Options such as public transportation, rideshare services like Uber or Lyft, shuttles that may be available, or a regular schedule of when someone can take them to the appointments and errands they need can help the person not to feel trapped or disallowed to participate in life. Gently communicate that you want them to continue to be able to live safely and to not get hurt or inadvertently hurt anyone else while they are driving.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR ELDERLY RELATIVE HAS CAUSED A CAR ACCIDENT
Often, the conversation about giving up driving privileges comes too late, after the person has been involved in an accident. If your loved one has been involved in a car accident—even a minor one—it’s likely time to have the conversation about giving up driving.
WHEN YOU’VE BEEN INJURED BY AN ELDERLY DRIVER
You have the right to compensation when you’ve been injured by another driver. Regardless of that driver’s age, you should consider your legal options and reach out to an experienced car accident attorney if you are thinking about filing a claim.
Jeff Green has years of experience helping his clients get the compensation they deserve. If you or a loved one has been injured and want to make sure you aren’t left shouldering the costs of those injuries, contact us today to schedule a free consultation.