My parents are now in their early 80’s. My father continues to work full-time, my mother still has a busy social life outside the home, and they continue to travel together frequently. They enjoy a full, vibrant life, with no slowing down in sight. And yes, they both still drive.
But my parents are not the exception. As of January 2014, out of over 15 million drivers in Florida, nearly 2 million were 70+ years. Knowing that my parents cherish their independence, is there an age when they should stop driving? In 2004, twenty years ago, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles published its executive summary titled “The Effects Of Aging On Driving Ability” stating that Florida was facing a critical situation with its aging population: the mature at-risk driver.
Having a law practice which specializes in auto accidents, I am acutely aware of the importance of being a responsible driver. Neither do I want my parents to be the cause of an auto accident, nor do I want them injured in one.
Elderly Drivers: What effect does aging have on safe driving?
Aging affects a variety of mental and physical skills needed for safe driving:
- Vision: Vision is the primary sense utilized in driving. Many visual functions deteriorate with age, for example, visual acuity, narrower visual fields, poorer nighttime vision, and a greater sensitivity to glare.
- Cognitive function: Deterioration in abilities such as memory, selective attention, and slower reaction time.
- Physical changes: For example, when reversing, stiff joints make turning your head around to see behind you more difficult. And as muscles lose strength, turning the steering wheel gets harder.
- Medications: Older people are also more likely to suffer from chronic medical conditions and need to rely on medications, which can result in temporary or long-term functional losses. Both prescription and over-the-counter medications have side effects that can affect the ability to drive safely.
How about your elderly parents? What signs should you be watching for?
Elderly drivers are all age differently. For this reason, there is no way to set one age when everyone should stop driving. So, how are we to know if our loved ones should hang up their car keys? Consider having your parents self-reflect with the following questions:
- Have you had a few accidents recently, even if they are only “fender benders”?
- Do you get lost, even on roads you know?
- Do cars or people walking seem to appear out of nowhere?
- Have family, friends, or my doctor said they are worried about my driving?
- Do you have trouble staying in my lane?
- Do you have trouble moving my foot between the gas and the brake pedals, or do I confuse the two?
- When you are driving, do objects such as parked cars or pedestrians catch you by surprise?
- Do you have difficulty seeing other cars before the driver honks? Do other drivers honk at you for reasons you don’t understand?
- Do you have limited neck rotation?
- Are your reflexes slower and reaction times longer than they used to be?
- Are you sometimes drowsy due to medications?
- Do you ever feel momentarily confused, nervous, or uncomfortable while driving?
- Has a family member ever suggested that you stop driving?
- Visually, do you experience low-contrast sensitivity? For example, do you have trouble seeing a gray car at dusk, a black car at night, or a white car on a snowy roadway?
Our parents want their independence. We want them to be safe. But if you’ve decided that it’s time to coordinate alternate transportation for your parents, there is good news. Both in Florida and nationally, many programs have been implemented to prepare for an aging population of elderly drivers. I’ve listed several resources below.