Senior Drivers: When is it time to give up the car keys?

June 08, 2018
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A number of years ago, I had the dubious honor of taking my dad's car keys away from him and turning his car back in to the leasing company. At the age of only 72, he was having health issues which affected his ability to drive and he started hitting things. I was just as concerned about the family of four that he may hit as I was about his own well-being. My mom had passed away a couple of years earlier and it fell on me to become the parent in a way. Though it was rough spending four or five evenings a week with him after work, I would give almost anything now to spend just one more night with him watching Patton (which always seemed to be on).

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that all seniors are bad drivers who cause more accidents. That distinction belongs to teen drivers. But senior drivers are more likely to be more seriously injured in an accident. As the baby-boomers age, the number of senior drivers is predicted to go from 31.7 million in 2015 to 53.7 million in 2030. And as you likely know, as the risk of deadly accidents increase, so do their insurance premiums.

Here are 6 signs that it may be time to stop driving:

  1. The driver suffers from medical conditions that may impact their ability to safely drive a car. Impairments from loss of memory, lessened vision, less mobility or conditions such as arthritis or diabetes can cause drivers to react more slowly or become less attentive. Other conditions include dementia, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, and Parkinson's.
  2. The driver takes medication that may impair response and reaction time. Medication side effects can cause a driver to become distracted due to anxiety, blurred vision, confusion, chest pain, dizziness, drowsiness, muscle cramps, or nausea.
  3. The driver suffers from recognizable cognitive decline. Examples of this include when a driver stops at a green light, becomes confused by traffic signals or signs, or runs a red light (and not because he or she was trying to beat the yellow).
  4. Local roads and signs need to be upgraded. Older drivers do better on well-maintained roads and signs which feature clear and vivid lettering.
  5. The driver's vehicle needs to be replaced. Many seniors are on a tight, fixed income and drive older vehicles which may have maintenance issues which increase the chance of the driver being severely injured in an accident. Newer vehicles have features designed to keep the driver safe including side airbags, rear-view cameras, bling spot warning indicators, tire pressure indicators, crumple-zone bumpers, etc.
  6. There is no real reason to drive. It is reasonable to say that the less a senior drives the less chance that he or she will be involved in a major accident but this is really a tough sell with many older people. I calmly gave my dad many reasons that he should stop driving including the fact that I would drive him anywhere he needed to go but to give up the car keys is not only giving up the freedom to come and go as you wish but it's also a grim reminder that your time is short in this world.

This is really a tough decision and a tough duty usually left to somebody's adult children. My only advice is to think first of the safety of the senior driver and others who may be involved in an accident and to be kind and patient when having this discussion.

--Ken May