It’s been well-documented that there are ever-increasing numbers of older Americans in the U.S., more than at any other time. Which means there are potentially more older drivers, and indeed that’s the case. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 50 million people will be 65 and older by 2020; one-half of whom will be over age 75.
Older drivers are more likely to be involved in traffic violations, nonfatal collisions, and fatal car crashes than any other drivers, except for teenagers. The factors that affect older drivers include changes in vision, psychomotor ability, cognitive and functional status, and medication use.
We’ve all seen older drivers on the road and wondered “why are they still driving?” But when it’s a family member, it becomes much more personal and concerning. For adult kids, they are left wondering “should we take the keys?”
Unfortunately, there’s not an easy answer. When it comes to driving, there is no set age at which people become less safe when they’re behind the wheel. Safety largely depends on the older driver’s physical and mental health, which varies widely from person to person. However, the following items can be considered warning signs and suggest there might be an issue:
Possible Warning Signs
- Getting lost in familiar areas
- Ignoring traffic signs and signals
- Becoming easily agitated or angered when driving
- Falling asleep or inability to concentrate when driving
- Reacting too slowly to dangerous situations
- Forgetting or ignoring driving basics – when to yield the right of way, for example
- Having trouble judging distances
Many people turn to their family members’ doctor for an assessment, but even then, it isn’t cut and dried. However, the following resources are available to supplement any doctor assessment.
- The AARP has an active older drivers’ program, 55 Alive, which offers an eight-hour class on driving safely for a nominal charge. The AARP website contains information about their driving programs as well as a helpful “Close Call Quiz” that can be used by older drivers as a self-assessment.
- The American Automobile Association (AAA) sponsors a class that is helpful in reviewing the rules of driving and helping older drivers self-assess their driving knowledge.
- Many local driving schools will perform an on-the-road evaluation for a small fee. In addition, veterans’ and rehabilitation hospitals also have driving programs available. The veterans’ hospitals are free of charge for veterans.
- The Alzheimer’s Association is also an excellent resource.
- The American Geriatrics Society has patient education materials on driving as well.