Older Drivers—When Is It Time to Give Up the Keys?

A guest post by E. Donnelly

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An article from 2012 came to mind recently: a 100-year-old driver hit 11 people in Los Angeles. As I read through the details again it made me cringe as I have an elderly father and his driving is worrisome. These days, my dad lives with my wife and me (Mom died some time ago), and is well into his senior years. His eyesight is not what it used to be. His reflexes are slower.

It fills me with dread to think of what might happen if he ever got into a car crash. But being the old block of which I am a chip, he is adamant. He calls it “payback” for all the times I snuck the car out in my teenage years (and did some damage, too). All of this got me thinking. Should there be an upper age limit on driving? More importantly, can there come a time when old people just know that they have to let go?

Driving your car not only helps you get around quicker but it gives you an identity. Seniors want to hang on to driving because it’s an important part of independence—letting go makes them dependent on others.

The Danger Looms

Recent figures have projected that the number of people over the age of 65 will account for 25 per cent of the driving population by 2025. In 2005, 11 per cent of fatal crashes were caused by the 65+ age category. As the number of people in the 65+ age group rises, road safety analysis experts predict that by 2030, 25 per cent of all fatal car crashes will be caused by people who are at least 65 years of age.

Such figures can be alarming but they can also lead to action.

Assessing Your Driving Capabilities

Preston Carter, the centenarian in the middle of the accident, was apologetic about injuring 11 people, mostly school kids, and his daughter told reporters he won’t be driving any longer. Even though older people have relatively fewer accidents than other age groups, recent news reports show that there has been a steady increase in cases involving older folks at the wheel.

What’s needed is an assessment that will help you gauge your driving abilities. Am I still able to drive? When should I let go? Asking yourself these two hard-hitting questions and a few others and being honest with your answers can help you and others stay safe on the road.

  • Do I experience any stiffness or painful discomfort in my body that hinders my ability to drive?
  • Have I been experiencing the blurry appearance of some signboards or the incessant honking of cars?
  • Am I slow in reacting to sudden movements or when other cars seem to appear out of thin air?
  • Am I confused about or get lost on familiar roads?
  • Have my family members expressed concern about my driving skills? Studies have shown that the hardest conversation for your children is to ask you to stop driving and let go of the car keys. 

Answering ‘yes’ to these questions will help you determine areas where you need help. For a more exhaustive checklist click here.

The test can be administered as a family project. Both the driver and family members (or friends) may rate an elderly driver. Then compare results. If family or friends give more “yes” answers than the older driver, it’s probably time to plan some safe-driving changes.

Keeping Options Open

Older drivers can improve—they can hone their skills. Regular medical checkups, driving tests, applying for safe driver courses and asking your car insurer for senior discounts such as those under the AARP Driver Safety program can all help an elderly driver stay safe.

Also, keep other options in mind: public transportation, taxis or carpooling are good alternatives. Some are even less expensive than owning a car!

Local Autumn 11_186Fortunately, my dad’s still in good shape. We’ve recently got him a membership at a nearby gym. He likes to work out and it’s doing wonders for his arthritis. We also plan to get him enrolled in an AARP Driver Safety Program. For now, we’ve decided to postpone discussing whether my dad should hang up his car keys to a later time. He has, however, limited his trips to 3 times a week.

So what about you? Maybe it is time to have a family discussion about driving. Most older drivers follow safety rules—they wear seat belts, follow the traffic rules and they don’t drive much. Yet age-related changes can affect driving discernment and that’s where a family can help. The choices you make now can very well alter the projected statistics for older drivers in the next few years. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

Elvis Donnelly is interested in personal finance, especially insurance. He uses his spare time to write on insurance, saving money, B2B and B2C coverage options. Elvis used to sell and manage coverage underwritten by a leading insurance company. Elvis now lives in Chicago, IL with his wife, two boys, and father.