When is Someone Too Old to Drive?

Elderly Driver

As the vast baby-boomer generation continues to age, statistics show that nearly 20 percent of all drivers today are elderly. Although age alone should not dictate when a person stops driving, it is a real consideration for both the elderly driver and their family.

One adult in 10 says they are worried about an elderly driver in their family, according to a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab. An older driver may not willingly admit that they may be having problems behind the wheel. Or they may believe that existing health problems will not impede their ability to operate a car safely. Some are simply totally unaware that their driving has changed.

It is often up to a family member to encourage an elderly driver to put away the keys. But when is that time? It is not simply when they turn a certain age. It also depends on their physical and mental health and observed driving capabilities.

Putting down the car keys for good significantly affects an older adult’s sense of freedom and independence. It often means they will increase their dependence on other people and most likely spend more time at home.

It is not easy to make the decision to not drive, for the driver and their family. But it is a decision that must be made at some point in most seniors’ lives. Elderly drivers with diminished abilities are a danger to themselves and others on the road.

A good way to see if this is the case with your loved one is to take a ride or two with them so you can see for yourself. Observation offers much more substantial proof of driving disabilities than simply perception or age. Also, be aware of any medical diagnoses that could affect a senior’s driving. Talk with their doctor directly if you have questions or worries.

Some Signs It is Time to Stop Driving

A respectful and compassionate discussion may be needed with your elderly loved one if you see some of these warning signs or know of any of these medical conditions.

Vision. It is normal for a person’s vision to worsen with age. Cataracts, macular degeneration, and other disorders greatly diminish a person’s vision. Peripheral vision, too, must remain sound. The person should also be able to see pedestrians, bicyclists, and stationary objects easily.

Flexibility. The ability to react quickly or even turn one’s head can be hampered with age. Being able to check blind spots, change lanes, and back up safely is necessary. A driver should also have the reflexes to react quickly to driving conditions when needed.

Strength. Although an elderly driver does not need super-human strength to drive, they need to be robust enough to work the gas pedal, brakes, and steering wheel effectively. Sometimes diseases, disorders, and medications can lessen muscle strength, which in turn could cause a car accident.

Coordination. Medications and some physical disorders reduce an older person’s coordination and balance. Those suffering from coordination issues may react more slowly or may not be able to work a gas pedal or brake with natural ease.

Confidence. An older driver may show decreased confidence in driving. They may avoid certain areas, highways, or road conditions such as winding or hilly roads. Diminished confidence should be a red flag that it may be time to put down the keys for good.

Distraction. An older driver may find it challenging to stay focused on driving. They may get lost in thought or conversation and find themselves drifting off the road or sailing through a stop sign. Or they may be eating, drinking, using a cell phone, or fiddling with controls. Distraction causes accidents.

Agitation. Many cognitive disorders can make an older person feel more agitated or irritated than usual. They make become impatient while driving or even drive aggressively, often without realizing it. Agitation can lead to reckless driving, which in turn can cause accidents.

Recklessness. Tailgating, speeding, changing lanes carelessly, making unsafe left turns, hitting curbs or stationary objects, not obeying traffic signs and ignoring signals, or other recklessness can cause accidents. An older adult may not even realize they are being reckless, but an observer will.

Confusion. Some senior drivers have cognitive decline or other medical issues that make it difficult to reason, analyze, or think clearly. They may get lost, forget where they were going, get confused at exits, or not understand how to react in a particular driving situation.

Tickets and accidents. Older drivers who get into accidents or are cited for a driving violation need to be observed closely. There is a good chance that they are experiencing a decline in their driving abilities and health. Even a minor accident or infraction is cause for concern and attention.

Damage. Observable damage to the driver’s car, such as dents and scratches, should not be ignored. It may mean the driver is having vision problems or other issues. Also, look for scrapes and dings on the mailbox, garage, and nearby objects such as planters and trees.

Other driver reaction. If, while traveling with an elderly driver, you notice other motorists honking their horns, routinely passing your car, or even making inappropriate gestures, it may signal that there is a problem with your elderly loved one’s driving.

How can I Help My Elderly Driver Stop Driving?

It is not easy to suggest that an elderly driver stop driving. Remember that they will lose perhaps the last bit of independence they had, which is difficult for anyone. Therefore, compassion can go a long way.

Remember to remain firm in your assertions that the loved one needs to stop driving. These tips can help:

  • Drive with them and observe. Having actual proof of driving disabilities is more powerful than just having perceptions. Share your observations.
  • Use citations, warnings, and accidents as proof of driving inadequacies.
  • Share the observations of others, such as neighbors, friends, or other family members, to help prove your point.
  • Talk to your loved one’s doctor. Whether it is a separate conversation with their doctor, or you accompany them on their next visit, the opinion of a medical professional can be meaningful and powerful to the elderly driver.
  • Express concern about other people. Tell your other driver that they may hurt themselves in an accident, but also stress that they could hurt other innocent motorists and passengers, including children.
  • Help them with the future. A primary worry for the elderly who stop driving is how they will do what they need to do. Make a list of shopping, doctor visits, and other activities that require a car and arrange drivers for them. It may be a family member or a social service agency for seniors. The important thing is to reduce your loved one’s worry and provide transportation solutions.
  • Get rid of their cars. Help them decide whether to sell, donate, or gift their vehicle.

Does Maryland Restrict Older Drivers?

Maryland has special rules for drivers aged 40 and older who want to renew their licenses:

  • Unless notified otherwise, they must renew their licenses every five years.
  • Must have a vision test at license renewal.
  • If there are indications of impairment, may need to take a written test and/or a road test.
  • May be required to obey license restrictions such as:
  • No freeway driving
  • No night driving
  • Time of day restrictions, such as no driving in rush hour
  • Additional right-side mirror on the vehicle
  • Geographic restrictions, such as no driving more than 20 miles from home
  • Wearing glasses or special lenses

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for People Injured by an Elderly Driver

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed because of the negligence of an elderly driver, contact the Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We will help you recover the compensation you deserve for damages, including medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses. We will continue to fight for you until you are completely satisfied. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online for a free consultation.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.