How old is considered too old to get behind the wheel? It’s a question that has been puzzled more and more by residents of Anamosa and elsewhere including those receiving palliative care. Some may worry about their parents, grandparents, or other loved ones having problems while trying to drive and ending up hurting themselves or others. Some may worry about damage to the car as well.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice has worked with clients who continue to have sharp reflexes and remain able to drive well for years, long after their peers have turned over their keys. They have also worked with clients and family members who easily surrendered their driving privileges once they became aware of potential problems with their coordination or confusion.
The topic of driving privileges can be a tricky situation: many seniors see driving tied into one of their last remaining freedoms. With their car, they can go anywhere they want, anytime they want, and don’t have to rely on someone else for help.
They’ve already lost a lot of their freedoms due to age so “taking away your keys” feels particularly painful – almost like a teen who also has their privileges taken from them.
Interestingly, both age groups are similar in terms of insurance protection and coverage. Teens and new drivers are ranked alongside senior adults. The youth are on this because they don’t have the expertise, techniques, or experience to get out of potentially dangerous problems, while seniors could be on their due to factors like poor coordination, poor eyesight, slow reflexes, more distractions, and other factors. There could be cognition problems as well.
But the tradeoff can be good too – seniors don’t have to worry about accidentally hitting someone or private property. They also can be treated like royalty of sorts during their commute as they sit back and be pampered. Isn’t it a nice feeling to (finally) be at a point where people take you where you tell them?
And what about those who may have a terminal condition and are receiving hospice care? Their hospice program likely tells them “no driving” as a general policy.
But what if they’re feeling fine, relatively, have energy, and want to drive somewhere to celebrate? What if they know they have few opportunities to drive ahead of them?
Different standards by state
Each state varies in its restrictions for senior drivers. Some may allow it, provided that the senior driver who operates the car can demonstrate that they’re able to keep driving, such as a driving test or at least a vision test. Others set a certain age limit that can be adjusted as needed.
For instance, in Idaho, licenses must be renewed every four years, not every five years, once someone reaches age 63. This process must be done in person not via email. Idaho also has laws in place to allow friends or family to request a “safe driver investigation” by local law enforcement if they believe someone has declined in their driving abilities.
Other states include Illinois, where once a driver turns 75, they need to apply to renew their license in person and be ready to take a driving test to continue holding a license.
Georgia drivers must pass a vision test every time they visit for a renewal.
Iowa drivers are asked to renew their license every two years once they reach age 75.
Readers with questions about their respective states can contact their state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or auto licensing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are more senior drivers on the road (a 60 percent increase since 2000). At the same time, they’re also getting in accidents, getting injured, and dying more so than other age groups.
A 2019 study showed that 8,000 adults over age 65 were killed in auto crashes and 250,000 had to go to the emergency room due to severe injuries. Based on this data, more than 20 adults over age 65 are killed daily and 700 are injured.
Seniors who are at least age 70 have a higher rate of accidents than drivers who are between ages 35 and 54, and males have a higher rate of accidents than females.
Ways to help
There is some good news. Although some people will admittedly want to avoid driving anywhere, others may look for tools to allow them to drive. They may not be up for an extended road trip but can still visit their friends nearby or a favorite shop or restaurant.
The AARP offers a variety of programs on its site, including tips on driving better and safer. It also offers an opportunity to receive a discount on insurance if someone takes a certain type of class.
There are also other community resources. In April, for instance, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration holds Distracted Driving Awareness Month. It’s a good opportunity for all ages to take the time to learn about how to drive better and avoid situations where risks could occur. This can include everything from texting to the simple slowness that comes with age.