The Car Keys - When is it Time to Take the Keys Away from Elderly Drivers?

It is hard to embrace the fact that parents are getting older. Declining health, mobility problems, and even dementia can create a need for ongoing long-term care. Yet, some of these same people are still driving.

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The Car Keys - When is it Time to Take the Keys Away from Elderly Drivers?
5 Min Read September 7th, 2022

You probably remember when you took your first driver's test. That feeling of freedom can be liberating when you are young. That feeling of independence never leaves you as you get older. Most older people hang on to that independence as long as they can. 

For a long time, the "learning to drive" process was a rite of passage; this is especially true for those who believed in the American Dream. These same people are now society's seniors, commonly called Boomers. 

Generation X is not far behind. Their cars and their independence are tied together.

Despite gas prices and the costs of maintaining the vehicle, older adults are reluctant to give up driving. Those with aging parents should reflect on what being able to drive has meant, especially when trying to understand the reluctance to relinquish their licenses. 

No one wants to "take away" an elderly driver's license, despite what our well-meaning family members may imply at Thanksgiving. However, as we age, reflexes, eyesight, cognition, and overall safety dramatically decrease. 

The family usually must protect their elderly family members from scams and abusive people. Protecting them if they can no longer safely drive is something the family needs to consider. Failing to prevent them from driving can result in crashes ending not only their lives but the lives of others.

Health Conditions That Can Affect a Senior's Ability to Drive

  • Vision Problems 

Age decreases vision ability; this is a well-known fact that occurs with proof as people age. The oldest drivers (75+) have reported as much as three times the amount of vision loss compared to other drivers. 

Aging only accounts for a portion of the things that can go wrong with an older adult's vision. Health histories that show glaucoma, cataracts, or diabetic retinopathy should raise red flags about possible impairments. 

An article in the Journal of Gerontology spells out the problem.

The visual problems of drivers increased with age along five different visual dimensions: unexpected vehicles, vehicle speed, dim displays, windshield problems, and sign reading. Several of the age-related visual problems that were reported appear to be related to the types of automobile accidents more common among older drivers. 

  • Lack of Physical Ability

A person's physical abilities begin to decline by as much as 40% once they turn 40. That poses a problem for those on the road. The problem is that older adults do not have the skill, range of motion, agility, or coordination needed to control a car fully.

Aging may inhibit more than physical ability, mental agility, forethought, and critical thinking. Some elders may conflate the gas and brake pedals; things running into a storefront can occur. 

  • Medications

A study published in 2017 put specific numbers on the number of drivers using medications. The research consisted of 404 driving under the influence conviction cases with drivers over 70 years old. The data shows that 60% were using prescription medication during their violation. 

Many medications can have intense judgment-inhibiting elements; narcotics, benzodiazepines, and alcohol have been found in older drivers' blood tests. 

Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, says that research shows that the more medications an older driver takes, the more likely they are to use an inappropriate medication that can potentially cause driving impairment.

There is a growing population of older drivers who use multiple medications and likely do not realize the impact these prescriptions may have on their driving.

  • Diseases and Chronic Conditions

Drivers ages 35-54 have fewer fatal crashes per 1,000 crashes than drivers over 70. This statistic speaks to how much power diseases and chronic conditions carry in the wake of a crash. 

Alzheimer's, Rheumatoid arthritis, and Parkinson's disease aren't the only diseases that should raise questions about an elderly driver. Those who suffer from sleep apnea, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension should also be watched closely. 

When are Individuals Considered Legally Unfit to Drive?

There is no predetermined age at which someone should stop driving; many people drive into their 80s without serious medical conditions. On average, however, most people continue driving for 7 to 10 years longer than they should. This factor is why so many elderly people are still driving. 

Older persons showing signs of dementia are typically not prohibited from driving at the administrative level because the only legal requirement for keeping a driver's license in the majority of states is to complete an application and pass the vision test. The family usually has to be more involved to enforce a no-driving resolution.

There are a few ways to be found legally unfit to drive. The most common way is having a medical emergency and the staff needing to report it to the DMV. Another common way to be declared unfit is by failing the driving assessment tests during the license renewal process. 

Warning Signs That It's Time to Take Away the Car Keys

Many signs indicate that a person should put away the car keys. For instance, someone has trouble staying in their lane or drives too fast or slowly. Also, when they start hitting curbs or gaining a lot of dents and scratches on their cars.

Of course, developing medical problems or increasing medication should also be considered warning signs. Further, check the non-physical information too; things like racking up points on driver license or receiving many tickets.  

What if Elderly Drivers Refuse to Stop Driving?

  • Have The Conversation 

No one wants to upset their loved ones, but sometimes upsetting them is better than losing them. Approach your seniors with empathy and offer a compromise if it will make them consider driving less. Many seniors will take the idea of not driving with hostility; make sure to be non-accusatory and non-confrontational. 

  • Consult Their Physician

If elders in your life have experienced a significant change or decline in abilities, you should speak to their physician. An older adult might display reoccurring issues, including forgetfulness, weakness, stiffness, or unusual aggression. Further, doctors may better convince some elders than their families.

  • Engage A Law Attorney

Some states require people 65 and older to take driving tests to ensure they are okay on the road. These tests include written, vision, and driving portions, all of which must be passed to keep their licenses. If your elderly parent is fighting over continuing to drive, consider speaking with an attorney to get better leverage against them. 

  • Head to the DMV

If all else fails, consider notifying the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). On the outside, all they may do is send a letter to the elderly driver, but you could use this to encourage them to stop their risky behavior. Be aware that this can result in a review of their driving record, which may draw unwanted attention to them. 

The Overall Goal is Always to Maintain Safety

It's never a great feeling to start noticing the decline of our elderly. Grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles are aging faster than anyone would like. Although the conversation about driving less or not at all might be difficult, remind them that it is for their safety and everyone else's too.

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About the Author

Patrick Peterson is a content manager at GoodCar. Born and raised in the automotive world, he's an enthusiastic expert who writes exquisite content pieces about everything related to cars and bikes.

LTC News Contributor Patrick Peterson

Patrick Peterson

Contributor since September 7th, 2022

Editor's Note

Once your mom or dad starts to lose their independence due to aging, declining health, mobility issues, or dementia, they become very dependent - often on their families. 

This will also mean they will need help with the routine daily activities we take for granted. Eating, dressing, going to the bathroom, bathing, and other things part of everyday life becomes challenging without someone's help and assistance. 

Long-term health care, either in-home or in a facility, is expensive. The costs are growing rapidly yearly and can quickly become a financial strain. Aging increases the likelihood of needing long-term health care and being prepared will reduce your family's stress and anxiety decades from now.

As more states consider imposing the LTC Tax on those without qualified Long-Term Care Insurance plans in place, the need to obtain coverage is more urgent. Most people have been getting their coverage in their 50s. But now, younger people are looking to avoid the tax and protect their 401(k) from the costs and burdens of aging.

Be sure to seek professional help when reviewing options - especially if you are in a state considering the LTC Tax. 

Long-Term Care Insurance Specialists vs. Financial Advisors (Pros and Cons).

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The most frequently asked questions concerning long-term care have been collated by LTC NEWS, and we offer the answers in our section titled "Frequently Asked Questions."

All the available resources on LTC NEWS are right here - Resources for Long-Term Care Planning.

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How About Elderly Parents?

If your older parents or family members are declining and need help now, what can you do to help? You can get help finding quality caregivers or long-term care facilities and get recommendations for a proper care plan, whether or not they have an LTC policy. - Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim | LTC News

If your loved one is lucky enough to own a Long-Term Care Insurance policy, be sure they use it. Sometimes families wait, thinking they can save the benefits for a rainy day. Waiting on using available Long-Term Care Insurance benefits is not a wise idea. 

Is a Reverse Mortgage Helpful?

Today's reverse mortgages for those aged 62 and older could be an ideal resource. You can fund a Long-Term Care Insurance policy OR even provide money to pay for care if you, or a loved one, already needs help and assistance. 

You might be eligible at younger ages as well. 

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Learn more by asking questions to an expert. Mike Banner, LTC NEWS columnist and host of the TV Show "62 Who Knew," will answer your questions regarding caregiving, aging, health, retirement planning, long-term care, and reverse mortgages. 

- Just "Ask Mike." - Reverse Mortgages | LTC News.

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