Many older drivers are not only experienced, but very careful and considerate on the roads. But with age can also come the normal medical conditions that might affect safe driving. In our prior post, we have shared the statistics gathered by experts that elderly or older drivers and occupants in vehicles are more likely to be seriously or fatally injured in a crash due to the increased frailty of their bodies. This is true even in more minor collisions. These age-related changes and the increased danger to the elderly driver, may cause greater concern for families and adult children of the elderly about their loved one’s safety. There is good reason to think about what to do when an older family member seems to be having more difficulty with driving. We might become aware of this as we notice damage to bumpers and other places of impact on a vehicle that are more likely to be damaged when the driver is visually or otherwise impaired. Often the bumpers of the vehicles driven by older family members are a first sign as to whether they are fully able to manage the challenges of driving. When we begin to observe these issues, we need to think about how to approach our elderly loved ones with our concerns. We recommend the resource How to Understand and Influence Older Drivers, published by our National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as an excellent place to start.
Some experts recommend that it is helpful to be a passenger on a regular basis with your older relative. This is a natural way to make sure your relative is managing his or her driving skills well. Sometimes when we drive with an older relative we can better assess things like how that person is handling normal driving conditions. For example, are they signaling before making a lane change or are they making that critical check for the blind spot before doing so? Are they stopping at intersections in the right location and are they coming to a full stop? Are they watching for other vehicles properly when moving through an intersection, making sure not to go on green for example until they are sure the intersection has cleared? Are we detecting visual impairment of any kind based on the way they are driving?
Because driving is an integral part of our feeling of independence, we all must take great care in how we approach this subject. Experts suggest that having a safe-driving discussion with your older relative before difficulties are observed is the best thing to do. Sometimes just getting your older relative to avoid driving on freeways or at night can help keep them and others safer. Experts also recommend suggesting that your older relative receive medical checkups that include both their physical well-being and visual acuity. Make sure that you and your older relative are aware the influence that medications can have on their driving. Those providing health care for your relative can also be very helpful in ensuring that he or she is able to drive safely as well, in terms of medication analysis and testing visual and reaction acuity.
The most important factor is not the age of the person, but rather their driving performance which should determine whether a person is still able to drive safely. In Georgia, our Department of Driver Services (DDS) requires drivers who are 64 years of age or older to undergo a vision test. Other factors will determine whether an older driver must be tested for driving skill, such as that person’s driving record. A DDS reexamination is possible to secure by various means and can involve a driving test which makes it possible for a neutral expert to assess the elderly person’s ability to be a safe driver. Georgia has some excellent resources for safe driving courses that can provide older drivers with refreshers so that they can stay safe and sound in their driving enjoyment.
If you are beginning to be concerned about your elderly relative’s ability to drive safely, you might want to consider getting other relatives involved in assessing the situation. It is critical that all concerned are respectful of your relative’s situation. Because sometimes it helps to have a neutral person help make the determination as to whether your relative is able to continue to drive, consulting with experts can be very helpful. If you have serious concerns about your relative’s driving capability, make sure you are sensitive and understanding as to how difficult this transition can be for someone who has been independent for decades.
For the past two decades, I have helped families deal with legal and medical recovery after a motor vehicle or other type of accident. Many families contact me simply to consult about an accident in which they have been harmed to determine whether there are others who might be at fault for their situation. Please feel free to contact me at my law firm after an accident or injury for a free consultation; it is important that you quickly learn about your rights and remedies.