As a group, seniors age 80 and older have the highest rate of
fatal crashes per mile driven -- even higher than for teens --
according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Simply
put, too many people continue driving when it's no longer safe for
them to do so.
Modern Car Features for the Aging Driver
Vision problems, slower reactions and other effects of aging
increase the risk of crashes. But most state legislatures ignore
the problem. In Virginia, where I live, the only nod toward aging
drivers' safety is a required vision test after age 80, but
licenses are good for eight years. Only 19 states make seniors
renew their licenses more often than younger drivers. Half of those
states cut eight- to ten-year renewal periods down to four to six
years -- only Illinois and New Mexico require annual renewal.
Illinois is the only state to mandate that drivers retake the road
test as they age.
Driving represents independence and freedom, in addition to
providing mobility, and politicians aren't eager to take on seniors
by making driver's-license renewals more stringent. If you have
ever approached a spouse, parent or friend about giving up driving,
you can appreciate why. But state lawmakers largely sidestep the
issue, so it's up to families to take action when a loved one is no
longer a safe driver.
The right approach.
If you suspect that an older family member's driving skills have
seriously deteriorated, take a ride with him. Note whether he has
trouble judging gaps in traffic, following traffic signals and road
signs, maneuvering or parking the car, or remembering the route. If
there's a problem, "address it head-on," says Jake Nelson, director
of traffic safety advocacy and research at AAA. "Most people wait
until after a crash and it's too late," he says. But you should act
before an accident occurs.
Choose the most appropriate person in your family to broach the
subject. Miriam Zucker, a geriatric care manager, suggests starting
with the positives, emphasizing safety and perhaps the need to back
off driving because of a medical condition. Say something like,
"Dad, you've been a safe driver for 60 years, but with your
cataracts, I know it's harder for you to drive at night. If you got
hurt or hurt someone else, that would be awful." Unless it's clear
the driver is unsafe all the time, suggest limiting driving to
daytime hours -- and perhaps staying off highways.
Before you have the conversation, investigate transportation
options in your area and their cost. Calculate how much money your
family member would save by driving less or not at all, and point
out that the savings could be used for other ways of getting
When an aging parent resists giving up driving, some families
resort to disabling the car or hiding the keys. But it's better to
let the state department of motor vehicles make the decision.
Often, the best way to make that happen is to take your case to
your parent's doctor. "Let the physician be the bad guy," says
Sharon Brangman, chief of geriatrics at Upstate Medical University,
in Syracuse, N.Y.
Rules governing physicians, however, vary from state to state.
In some, including New York, doctors can't contact the DMV
regarding a patient without the patient's permission. In others,
such as New Jersey, doctors are required to report patients they
don't believe should be behind the wheel anymore. (To see the laws
in your state and more information about elder driving safety, go
A report to the DMV may trigger a review of your parent's
driving record or an order to retest the driver. It could also lead
to a health evaluation. Depending on where you live, the report may
be anonymous. If all else fails, you may have to obtain
guardianship over your parent and get a court order to prevent him
from driving, says Shirley Whitenack, a lawyer in New Jersey who
specializes in elder-care law.
Follow Jessica on
This article first appeared in
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
magazine. For more help with your personal finances and
subscribe to the magazine
. It might be the best investment you ever make.