Still able to drive over age 65?
Obtaining your driver’s license is a memorable moment during adolescence. It’s a sign of independence and the freedom to go where you choose. As we grow older, our ability to keep that independence becomes limited by factors outside our control. Although there are no laws prohibiting the elderly from driving, there may come a time when it’s best to leave the keys to someone else.
On average, about 15 older adults are killed daily in vehicle crashes, with about 500 being injured. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that fatal crash rates increase per mile traveled at age 75 and greatly after age 80. This is often not due to an increased likelihood to get into crashes but rather to an increased vulnerability to injury or medical conditions.
“As the population ages, there will be more drivers over the age of 65,” says Dr. Mark Mroczko, a family medicine physician at Advocate Medical Group in Eureka, Ill. “Most drivers are safe behind the wheel and do not require any intervention. However, some drivers due to a variety of factors including limited mobility, medications, and certain disease processes, may not be able to safely operate a vehicle.”
Dr. Mroczko recommends that loved ones notify the driver’s physician if they feel the driver is becoming impaired so that the physician can effectively treat the driver and help to minimize the risks if he or she continues driving.
Some factors can lower the risk for older driver injuries and deaths. They include wearing a seat belt, driving only under safe conditions and avoiding driving while under the influence of alcohol or other substances. It’s recommended to avoid driving in bad weather or at night.
Since there’s an age-related decline in vision and cognitive functioning that affects older driver ability, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) provides a list of “10 Signs that it’s Time to Limit or Stop Driving”:
- Almost crashing, with frequent “close calls”
- Finding dents and scrapes on the car, fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs, etc.
- Getting lost, especially in familiar locations
- Having trouble seeing or following traffic signals, road signs and pavement markings
- Responding more slowly to unexpected situations, or having trouble moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal; confusing the two pedals
- Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps
- Experiencing road rage or causing other drivers to honk or complain
- Easily becoming distracted or having difficulty concentrating while driving
- Having a hard time turning around to check the rear view while backing up or changing lanes
- Receiving multiple traffic tickets or “warnings” from law enforcement officers
“If a driver is deemed unfit to drive, then it is helpful to get a referral to an occupational or physical therapist so that the therapist can evaluate the driver and make recommendations regarding the patient’s ability to drive,” says Dr. Mroczko. “Ultimately, if the patient is deemed unfit to drive, then alternative forms of transportation need to be discussed.”
If stepping away from the wheel isn’t yet necessary, the CDC gives some advice to help ensure safety for older drivers.
- First, it recommends exercising regularly to increase strength and flexibility.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medications to reduce possible side effects.
- Have your eyes checked at least once a year.
- Plan your route before you leave so you can take the safest one.
- While driving, try to leave a gap between the car in front of you.
- Finally, avoid distractions in your car.
If you feel that a loved one should put down the keys but are unsure of how to approach it with him or her, AARP has an online seminar available for talking with older drivers.
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health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.