When’s it time to give up the keys?

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When’s it time to give up the keys?

Matthew Dolman

We often hear stories and handle cases of people who were cut off or rear ended by elderly drivers. Sometimes it leads to injuries, sometimes it doesn’t. But it can be a risk for both parties involved.

Elderly driving is a sensitive subject; we understand that completely. People who have lived a long life, fought in international wars, raised an entire generation, and took care of us younger people our whole lives deserve respect. They deserve independence and freedom. After all, if you flew a jet in Vietnam or ran your own business for 50 years, you can probably operate a car.

But sometimes, the unfortunate facts of biology catch up with us, making driving in old age dangerous. Eyes start to deteriorate, reaction times slow, and motor control becomes limited. But at what point is time to give up the keys, and accept rides from your friends or loved ones?

There are approximately 36 million licensed drivers over the age of 65 in the United States. That’s about a tenth (1/10) of the population. That same group makes up 13% of the overall population. According to research by AAA, the rate of accidents per mile driven increases steadily for drivers 65 and older. When drivers reach the age of 80 and older, they are more likely to die in a crash than any other group except teenage drivers.

For those caregivers who must discuss this with their aging parent or loved one, keep in mind that you want them to stay safe for their remaining years. For those of you who are reaching an age where it’s time to consider giving up driving, just remember that an auto accident can change people lives, kill children, and permanently disable. If you can no longer drive safely, there is no shame in giving it up. It is understandable that it’s one more loss of independence, but saving someone’s life may be worth it.

An average of 586 older adults are injured every day in crashes. And, as the baby-boomer generation reaches their golden years, this number is likely to go up. In fact, there were almost 36 million older drivers in 2012, which is a 34% increase from 1999.

Perhaps it is time to implement continuous driver’s license testing. Not just for the elderly, but for all people. It only makes sense. Perhaps someone has a drivers’ license, but has developed a panic disorder, perhaps their sight is starting to go, and perhaps they haven’t driven in 20 years. Shouldn’t these situations be reevaluated like any other form of licensure?

What can aging adults do to stay safe on the road?

Exercise regularly. This will help increase and maintain strength and flexibility, making it easier to control the vehicle.

Ask your doctor to review medicines (both prescription and over-the-counter). There may be other combinations or other medications they can give you to reduce side effects that may affect driving, like drowsiness.
Check your eyesight and hearing. Have an annual checkup at an eye and hearing doctor can help you to stay on top of any potentially deteriorating senses. Keeping up-to-date with your eyeglasses and hearing aids can make a big difference in driving ability.
Only drive during the day and in good weather. Driving at night, in low light, greatly increases the chances of an accident. Likewise, rain, snow or other hazardous conditions can make driving much more difficult.
Plan your routes so as to take easier to drive roads. Only drive on wide streets that are well-lit and have well-regulated intersections. It may also help to go a little bit (but not much) out of the way to turn at an intersection with a green arrow, as oppose to a green light yield.
Drive with an abundance of caution. For example, try to keep multiple car lengths between you and the driver in front of you. Go slow, but not too slow as to encourage the cars around you to make a dangerous passing maneuver.
Know your route. Nothing makes driving harder than distractions. If you need a GPS to get you’re where you’re going, install a mounted, large screen device in a visible area of the dash.

Always pre-program it before you leave the driveway or parking lot.

Avoid distractions. Every driver should do this. Try to limit eating in your car, changing the radio, talking on your cell phone and texting, etc.

One sure way to stay safe is to avoid driving whenever the opportunity arises. If you are off to church, chances are there are plenty of people who would more than happy to give you a ride.

Plan on grocery shopping on the same day as you friend who is a bit younger. If you need a gift, consider ordering it from Amazon rather than fighting through the mall parking lot. It may turn out that catching a ride to church, grocery shopping with a friend, or ordering online all open you up to new experiences and new friendships. It may turn out to be a welcome tradeoff for not driving as often.

Is elderly driving really a problem?

In just one year, more than 5,560 older adults were killed in car accidents. In the same time period, over 214,000 were injured. This amounts to 15 older adults killed and 586 injured in crashes, on average, every single day. As an older person, there are enough ways to be injured. Driving doesn’t have to be one of them. If giving up driving isn’t necessary yet, consider limiting the amount you drive using the tips above.

How do you know when it time for you or loved one to give up the keys?

Sometimes, driving as an older person may start to feel like a chore. It may no longer feel safe or be a source of anxiety. If this the case, then start looking into other transportation options. If this is not the case, then examine these conditions and see if a majority of them fit you. If they do, it may be time to start thinking about limiting or giving up driving.

Do you have frequent close calls or near misses?

• Are you finding dents and scrapes on your car, mailbox, garage doors, fences, etc?

• Have you found yourself getting lost when driving familiar routes?

• Are you having trouble seeing traffic signals, road signs, and pavement markings?

• Have you noticed that you are responding more slowly to unexpected or sudden situations?

• Do you have trouble moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal; or do you confuse the two pedals?

• Have you noticed that it’s becoming more difficult to judge gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps?

• Has there been a sharp increase in the amount of drivers that honk, throw their hands up, or give you dirty looks?

• Are you becoming more and more distracted or having difficulty concentrating while driving?

• Is it becoming difficult to turn around to check your blind spots, while backing up, or while changing lanes? (This is a big one)

• Is it difficult to get in and out of your car, or to move around in your car?

Dolman Law Group is an experienced personal injury firm in Florida; with offices in Clearwater and St Pete. We specialize in helping victims of auto accidents get the compensation they deserve. Their number is 727-451-6900.