Back to School… For Older Drivers?

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Driver’s Ed: It’s not just for teenagers anymore.

In Virginia, the state DMV has a service set up that puts elderly drivers – or their family members – in touch with specially trained older driver experts. For a free ranging from $200 to $400, these experts offer comprehensive driver evaluation screening – along with remediation, where that’s possible.

These oldster interventions are not so much about teaching the AARP crowd how to drive as they are about helping elderly drivers learn to manage the physical and mental declines that often come with aging, such as poor night vision, reflexes that aren’t what they used to be, mobility issues caused by joint problems, arthritis and so on – as well as the effects of illnesses such as stroke or diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

And to encourage them to realize when it’s time to leave the driving to someone else.

The Hartford Insurance Company offers an Agreement on Driving that helps establish ahead of time and in writing when and under what conditions an older driver will agree to stop driving. Though the Agreement doesn’t have the force of law, some families may find it a helpful tool should the need ever arise to confront an aging parent about their driving.

The key element of any intercession is having a third party make the evaluation – and any recommendations. Things can get ugly when an adult child tells an aging mom or dad that maybe their driving’s not so great anymore.

Hearing the news from someone on the outside – who is objective and doesn’t bring family baggage to the table – can reduce the drama and make the elderly driver more receptive to any recommendations.

In the coming years, the need for such interventions is going to increase. By 2029, it is estimated that one in four Americans will be age 65 or older.

Though teenagers and new (young) drivers remain the highest-risk group overall if you go by accident and fatality statistics, America’s gray-hairs (and blue heads) are a close second. The fatality rate for drivers age 85 and older, for example, is nine times higher than for drivers ages 25-69. Motor vehicle-related injuries are also the leading cause of death among those in the 65-74 age group.

While accidents involving older drivers tend to result more from passive actions such as inadvertence, failure to notice changing conditions and slowed reactions than from things such as excessive speed for conditions – the end result is often the same.

The problem is, enforcement isn’t.

Because our attitudes toward Driving While Elderly are much more indulgent.

Our system is currently in Jihad mode when it comes to (for example) drinking and driving – even when the “drinking” involved is minor and arguably amounts to less in the way of functional impairment behind the wheel than, say, a bad case of glaucoma (or dementia).

This isn’t to defend “drunk” driving (or excessive speed for conditions, or tailgating). It’s simply an attempt to make the point that The System is selective – and arbitrary – in its focus. Older drivers haven’t (yet) become targets of special attention, much less societal derision – and stepped-up enforcement – even though, arguably (because, factually) their driving is often as or even more “risky” and “dangerous” as other categories of impaired or inept or flat-out dangerous drivers. We still have a very soft spot for the Blue Hairs – and that’s understandable on a human level since no one can help getting old ,while they can help drinking and driving. But does it really matter to the person who is killed by a driver who runs a red light whether the person who killed him was a 35-year-old drunk or a sweet old lady who “just didn’t see” that the light had changed?

I once had a cop tell me that “we all get old” – as he urged toleration of Senior Driving. I wondered to myself how come he wasn’t as tolerant of other manifestations of dangerous/inept driving… .

Before you say it, rest assured I know it. Being old doesn’t necessarily make you an inept or dangerous driver anymore than being 17-years-old does. My point is simply that we tend to give the geezers a pass, even when they’re clearly passed it. And that’s neither fair nor helpful, if the object of traffic enforcement is – as we’re told over and over – our safety.

Old people shouldn’t be targeted as a class anymore than teenagers – or anyone else. The focus ought to be on eachindividual driver’s actual driving, not his age – or any other peripheral characteristic that isn’t related to what the person is actually doing behind the wheel.

But when it’s time for Uncle Bob to hang it up, he shouldn’t be treated with deference anymore than we currently treat drunk drivers – and ought to treat left-lane hogs and tailgaters.

Throw it in the Woods?










  1. This is a good article. Jesus I actually agree with the government on something. States should be more proactive in yanking licenses. Many police give way more leeway to elderly drivers than they should. I just told my dad at his 90th birthday. I say listen man you won. You got to 90. Now give up the driving. Hurting yourself is one thing but hurting someone else would be on your conscious forever. My mom with dementia had a crash with another car before she finally gave it up. She was found stumbling around the highway at night until we finally took her keys. At that point she didnt really care anymore but it can take a while to get there. . Its tragic but its irresponsible not to address it.

  2. States already have laws on the subject. Here is an example:

    A driver is required to take a written test at least once every eight years if traffic convictions have occurred. Everyone must have his or her vision screened when applying for a renewal, with the exception of Safe Driver Renewals. All persons age 75 or older must take a driving test at each renewal. Drivers age 81-86 must have their licenses renewed every two years, while persons age 87 and older must renew annually.

    There has been a lot of testing of drinking and driving. It has been shown that everyone is negetively affected with as little as .02 bac. An average middle aged male can have almost 4 drinks all withing an hour time period to bring them up to .08. I would like to see who says it is ok to have 5 or 6 drinks in an hour period and still drive. They are probably someone who does not drink or someone who does drink and drive and does not want to stop.


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