For most of us, the ability to drive a vehicle is something we take for granted. For older drivers, the ability to continue to drive if often intimately linked with their sense of independence and freedom. Taking away the ability to drive, to and older driver, is equal to taking away his/her freedom. The problem is that failing to step in and take the keys, in some cases, is almost certain to lead to serious injury, even death, for the older driver and/or others who share the same the roadways. What do you do if confronted with this situation? How can you keep your older loved ones safe behind the wheel? What do you do if you believe an older loved one can no longer safely operate a vehicle? All of these are excellent questions without simple answers.
Are Older Drivers Really Worse Drivers?
We all get frustrated when we get behind a senior driver who is driving below the posted speed limit or we get irritated when we see an older driver fail to use a turn signal or cut across several lanes of traffic and if it’s our own loved one getting behind the wheel we worry until he or she returns safely. Is all of this justified though? Are older drivers really more at risk behind the wheel than their younger counterparts? The answer is “yes” and “no.” Consider some of the following facts and figures relating to older drivers:
- In 2012, more than 5,560 older adults were killed and more than 214,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes.
- 15 older adults are killed and almost 600 injured, on average, every day
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase noticeably starting at ages 70‒74.
- Fatal crash rates are highest among drivers age 85 and older
- The higher fatal crash rates are the result of increased susceptibility to injury and medical complications among older drivers, not an increased tendency to get into crashes.
The empirical evidence appears to suggest that while older driver might be more at risk when they are behind the wheel, the reason has less to do with their ability to operate the vehicle safely and more to do with their deteriorating physical body. For example, the natural aging process leaves seniors much more susceptible to injury when they are involved in an accident, causing them to be disproportionately represented in the fatal accident category. The same natural aging process, however, can also contribute to an actual deterioration of their driving skills as well. Seniors are more likely to have visions problems, for example and typically have slower reaction times. If a driver also has health conditions that may contribute to problems while driving, such as diabetes, arthritis, or heart problems, it can create a trifecta of risk factors for an older driver.
How Do You Keep Your Senior Safe?
Whether it is because of their driving abilities or their physical frailty, your older loved one is likely at a heightened risk while behind the wheel. What can you do to decrease the possibility of injury?
- Use the law to your advantage. Like many states, California imposes different licensing requirements for older drivers. Drivers over 70, for example, must renew in person and may be required to take a road test during renewal. The DMV also has the ability to place additional restrictions on an older driver if there is cause to do so.
- Talk to your loved one. It may not be easy, but sit down and talk about your concerns with your loved one. Explain that it is not your intention to take away his/her freedom but that you are worried.
- Have alternatives ready. Your loved one may be afraid of losing his/her independence. With that in mind, have an alternative plan ready that reassures your loved one. Get bus schedules or the name of a taxi driver. Explain how easy it will be to continue to get around for your loved one, even without his/her own vehicle.
- Take the keys as a last resort. If you are truly concerned that your loved one continuing to drive is dangerous, be prepared to take the keys and deal with the aftermath.
For more information, please join us for one of our upcoming free seminars. If you have additional questions or concerns about conservatorship in the State of California, contact the Collins Law Firm by calling (310) 677-9787 0r Click Here reserve for a Free Estate Planning Workshop.