We've all heard the stories: An elderly woman hits the accelerator instead of the brakes and crashes into a building. A 90-year-old man backs his Cadillac onto a sidewalk and hits 10 people.
Driving helps older adults stay mobile and independent, but the risk of being injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash increases as people age. Statistics show that older drivers are more likely than younger ones to be involved in crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In fact an average of 500 older adults is injured every day in crashes.
20 warning signs that indicate a senior might not be safe to drive, according to the NHTSA:
- Drifts into other lanes
- Straddles lanes
- Makes sudden lane changes
- Ignores or misses stop signs and traffic signals
- Gets easily confused in traffic
- Brakes or stops abruptly without cause
- Accelerates suddenly without reason
- Coasts to a near stop in the midst of moving traffic
- Presses simultaneously on the brake and accelerator while driving
- Has difficulty seeing pedestrians, objects and other vehicles
- Is increasingly nervous when driving
- Drives at significantly slower than the posted speed or general speed of other vehicles
- Backs up after missing an exit or road
- Difficultly reacting quickly as they process multiple images or sounds
- Problems with neck flexibility in turning to see traffic on the left or right
- Gets lost or disoriented easily, even in familiar places
- Fails to use the turn signal, or keeps the signal on without changing lanes
- Increased "close calls" and "near misses"
- Has been issued two or more traffic tickets or warnings in the past two years
- Dents and scrapes on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs
What to do about unsafe elderly drivers
When you notice several of these warning signs, it is time to assess the situation. Don't wait for an accident. But be sympathetic to your loved one's feelings. Losing the right to drive is a traumatic event. Giving up the car keys is viewed by elders a major event that represents loss of independence and self-sufficiency.
Rather than forcibly taking away the keys, suggest a driving test to evaluate an elder's ability to operate a car. A driving assessment is available at the local Department of Motor Vehicles.
If you are concerned for the safety of a family member, friend, or other person who can no longer drive safely, call or visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles. Provide the person's name as shown on the license, birth date, driver license number (if known) and current address, and explain what you observed that led you to believe the person is an unsafe driver. The letter must be signed; however, you may request that your name be kept confidential.
If you determine that mom or dad is still capable of driving, suggest they enroll in a Mature Driving course. Some drivers age 60+ have never looked back since they got their first driver's licenses, but even the most experienced drivers can benefit from brushing up on their driving skills.
By taking a driver safety course, seniors learn the current rules of the road, defensive driving techniques, and how to operate a vehicle more safely in today's increasingly challenging driving environment (distracted drivers from dangerous activities such talking on the phone or texting and driving). The senior will learn how to manage and accommodate common age-related changes in vision, hearing and reaction time.
As an added incentive, let your elderly loved one know that they may be eligible to receive an insurance discount upon completing the course – as well as discounts on roadside assistance plans.
In addition to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, organizations like AAA offer driver safety programs.