Dangerous Driving and Seniors
Warning Signs of Unsafe Driving
This Section is Published Through the Courtesy of Vicki L.
Behavior that may indicate a person's driving
threatens personal safety and that of others includes:
|Has difficulty following instructions and directions.|
|Coasts to a near stop in the midst of moving traffic.|
|Drifts into other lanes of traffic.|
|Stops abruptly without cause.|
|Presses simultaneously on the brake and accelerator while driving.|
|Delays changing lanes when an obstacle appears in the lane in which
s/he is driving.|
|Fails to appreciate the frustration, exasperation, or irritation
exhibited by other drivers toward his or her driving.|
|Does not signal when turning or changing lanes.|
|Has accidents, near misses, or "fender benders."|
|Gets lost in familiar places.|
|Fails to obey traffic laws, road signs, or signals.|
|Drives against traffic, on the wrong side of the road (definite
|Makes errors in signal use, steering, braking, speed, and
|Has difficulty seeing pedestrians, objects, and other vehicles.|
|Is increasingly nervous when driving.|
|Becomes increasingly flustered in traffic or by more aggressive
|Fails to yield the right-of-way or yields the right-of-way
|Drives significantly slower than the posted speed or general speed
of other vehicles.|
|Turns from an improper lane or at an improper time or pace at
intersections (especially when turning left).|
|Ignores or coasts through stop signs.|
|Backs up after missing an exit (definite danger).|
|Falls asleep while driving or gets drowsy.|
|Does not pay attention to other drivers or road hazards.|
|Does not react to emergency situations.|
When any of these signs appear, it is time to
assess the situation. Don't wait for an accident. Also if a
person is having problems related to daily living - such as hygiene,
grooming and paying bills - he or she may be having difficulties with
in Skills Needed for Safe Driving
and mental changes associated with the aging processes often lead to reductions in
the skills needed for safe driving.
The use of multiple prescription drugs may cause drowsiness or
anxiety, thus impairing driving skills.
The eyes become slower to adapt to light and darkness, which
can create sensitivity to bright sunlight and glare. The eyes also
lose some ability to process light, which makes seeing at night
harder. Depth perception and judging the speed of oncoming traffic
Loss of hearing
Common health problems, like arthritis, can make it harder to
drive by limiting people's ability to turn the head easily or move a
foot from the accelerator to the brake.
The use of multiple prescription drugs may cause drowsiness.
Attention and reaction time
Older drivers often find it difficult to react quickly as they
process multiple images or sounds, such as when they're looking for
street signs while monitoring traffic and talking with a passenger.
Losing the Right to Drive is a Traumatic Event
is viewed as a necessity. When a
disability occurs, it can affect the skills necessary for independent
Community Transportation Web site includes a comprehensive Web page on "Mobility
and Independence: Changes and Challenges for Older Drivers" addressing
the consequences of mobility changes and the impact that loss of driving
has on personal independence.
the research paper "The
Mobility Consequences of the Reduction or the Cessation of Driving by
Older Women" (PDF format), the authors study the consequences
of driving cessation with a focus on older women.
Ethical and Moral Concerns
Few seniors plan for the time when they will be unable to drive, yet
many will eventually face this decision. Most believe they will know
when it is time to stop driving. However most seniors also know
friends who continue driving and can no longer operate a vehicle
Giving up the car keys is viewed by elders and those around them as a
major event with significant implications regarding independence,
self-sufficiency (especially in Los Angeles), and social
Many seniors face this dilemma:
"Do I continue to drive even when driving begins to pose real
safety risks for myself and others?"
Faced with this dilemma, some individuals stop driving, while others
continue to drive.
Giving up driving is a major event for an older person and a senior's
loss of independence also has significant implications for his or her
Children are reluctant to discuss this emotional issue and may be
concerned about hurting the senior's feeling. Some family members may
also be afraid of losing the senior's affection or of retaliation.
Family members may be unprepared to provide the additional level of
care and support needed by an increasingly dependent elder.
Many family members must face this decision:
"Do I continue to let a senior drive even when driving begins
to pose real safety risks for him or her, other family members and the
Some family members refuse to intervene but would not let their own
young children ride with the senior driver.
Physicians must balance their ethical responsibilities to patients and
to the public. Their dilemma is illustrated in this Web page:
Crossfire Debate: Should physicians report
patients with medical conditions that make them unsafe drivers?
In December, 1999, the American Medical Association changed
its ethical guidelines to let doctors notify the motor vehicle
department in their states about patients with medical conditions that
could make them unsafe drivers. This policy makes public safety a
priority over the confidentiality of patients and does not have
universal support among physicians.
Most organizations providing services to seniors are aware of elders
who can no longer drive safely but continue to do so and are placing
themselves and the public at risk.
Like physicians, social workers attempt to balance their ethical
responsibilities to clients and to the public. They are also very
concerned that their organization not get a reputation for
"turning in" seniors to the Department of Motor Vehicles,
thus discouraging elders from seeking their services.
Elected representatives are caught between constituents clamoring for
public safety through increased screenings of older drivers, and
pressure from seniors and advocacy organizations fighting against age
In several states, legislative
attempts to add to the testing requirements for older drivers have met
with successful opposition from senior groups (such as AARP and the
Congress of California Seniors). Additional driving tests for the
elderly continues to be a highly controversial topic.
An interesting comparison of the Driver
Licensing Renewal Procedures for Older Drivers in the U.S. as
of May 2004 can be found on the Insurance Institute for Highway
Safety Web site.
Many renewal requirements now focus on health, not age, in
determining whether people should be retested.
Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Process in California
Topics include renewing your driver's license, preparing for exams,
and driving tests.
Conditions and Traffic Safety
DMV provides guidelines for physical and mental conditions such
as dementia, diabetes, loss of consciousness and vision problems.
DMV Web page addresses these questions:
* What can DMV do
about a person who may be unable to drive safely due to a physical
or mental condition or disorder?
* What types of medical
conditions can affect a person's ability to drive safely?
* How does DMV find out
about persons who may be unsafe to drive due to a physical or mental
condition or disorder?
* How do I let DMV know
about a family member, relative or acquaintance whom I believe may
no longer be a safe driver?
* What types of
conditions must a physician report to DMV?
to Refer an Unsafe Driver
you are concerned for the safety of a family member, friend, or
other person who can no longer drive safely, you may
write to your local Driver Safety Office or the address given below.
You should provide the person's name as shown on the license, birth
date, driver license number (if known) and current address, and explain what
you observed that led you to believe the person is an unsafe driver.
The letter must be signed; however, you may
request that your name be kept confidential.
Write your letter to:
Department of Motor Vehicles
Driver Safety Actions Unit M/S J234
P.O. Box 942890
Sacramento, CA 94290-0001
DMV will contact the person for a reexamination and, if
necessary, administer a driving test to determine whether or not the
person is safe to drive. The person may be issued a restricted
license. It is possible that the person's driving privilege may be
revoked as a safety measure, not only for the safety of that
individual but also for the safety of the rest of the driving
For more details, please
see the DMV Web page.
The list of DMV
Driver Safety Offices in California can also be found on the DMV
Anonymous reports will not be considered. However, you
can ask to keep your name confidential and DMV will not
tell the person who made the report.
According to Vehicle Code §1808.5, all records received by DMV,
which report a physical or mental condition are confidential and
cannot be made public:
"Except as provided in Section 22511.58, all records of the
department relating to the physical or mental condition of any
person, and convictions of any offense involving the use or
possession of controlled substances under Division 10 (commencing
with Section 11000) of the Health and Safety Code not arising from
circumstances involving a motor vehicle, are confidential and not
open to public inspection."
reexamination process may include an interview, a written test and a
DMV may send the person a form (DS 326: Driver Medical
Evaluation) and a notice to call a Driver Safety office for a
DMV reexamination. The physician treating the person must complete
the medical form. It is important for the person to come in for his
or her DMV appointment and bring the completed medical form,
otherwise his or her driving privilege will be suspended.
description and a copy of the Driver Medical Evaluation Form can be
Starting January 2001, a driving test will be given to any person
*Physician reports the person
has lapses of consciousness.
*Traffic officer requests a DMV review and the officer
believes the driver is incapable of operating a vehicle safely.
*Relative makes a good-faith
report to DMV stating the driver cannot safely operate a vehicle.
Guidelines for Taking Action
DMV Web page provides comprehensive guidelines for evaluating
and taking action against the driving privilege of drivers with
physical or mental conditions or disabilities that may impair the
ability to drive.
Some of the requirements considered are:
* Physical requirements
* Sensory functions
* Mental requirements
* Emotional stability
* Knowledge requirements
* Physical limitations/restrictions
* Physical or mental condition and history
* Aggravating factors
* Nexus of physical or mental condition to driving
* Determination of compensating factors
* Driver understanding and awareness
Web page also reviews DMV options and your hearing rights.
A determination may be made that no
condition exists which warrants an action against the
driving privilege. The department may also find that a condition
exists which warrants:
*Reexamination on a specified
date (Calendar Reexamination)
*Medical Probation I: driver
must comply with medical regimen and report any changes to the
*Medical Probation II: annual
medical reports required to be submitted to the department on
*Limited Term Licenses: license
issued by the field office for one to two years which requires the
driver to return to the department for reevaluation and/or testing
*Revocation: The hearing officer may revoke the person's driving
privilege if he or she does not do well on the written test or it is
clear that the person does not have the skills needed for safe
driving. For this reason, DMV suggests that someone accompany the
person to the interview. The loss of license
will be a traumatic event. Support
and resources should be made immediately available to help the senior
during this crisis.
The driver license is often a person's primary means of
identification. Its loss often means the person will not have a
handy form of photo identification for check cashing purposes,
qualifications for services, etc. DMV understands that a person
needs some form of identification. So If a senior's driving
privilege has been revoked because he or she is no longer able to
drive safely, or he or she develops a physical or mental condition
which interferes with his or her driving performance and voluntarily
surrenders the driver license, then DMV
will exchange a valid driver license for an identification card (ID)
free of charge, as long as the license has not expired.
Options to Keep Driving Safely
Self-Assessment Form: Driver 55 Plus
can help drivers discover their limitations and help them prepare
for the day when they may no longer be able to drive safely. A
self-assessment may also help your mature driver understand your
concern about his or her driving skills.
You can download the very
large file in pdf format from the AAA Foundation Website.
The self-assessment form, Drivers
55 Plus: Test your Own Performance, is also available from the
following organizations by enclosing a check or money order for
Automobile Club of Southern
Public Safety Dept. H206
2601 S. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90007
California State Automobile
Traffic Safety Dept.
150 Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94101
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
1440 New York Avenue, Suite 201
Washington, DC 20005
driving IQ and
From AARP 55 Alive.
alert to changes: Has this happened to you?
From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Driving for Mature Drivers
From the State of California Department of Insurance
a private driver evaluation
If you, or those who drive with you, are concerned about your
safety, you may chose to have a private driver evaluation.
A driver rehabilitation
specialist can provide a comprehensive evaluation to
determine your ability to drive.
This assessment should include:
|Behind-the-wheel evaluation. |
Choosing Safe Alternatives, Rehabilitation and Assistive Devices
AARP 55 Alive Driver
The nation's first and largest classroom driver improvement course
specially designed for motorists age 50 and older.
It is intended to help older drivers improve their skills while
teaching them to avoid accidents and traffic violations.
Find a class near
From California DMV
tips on a variety of subjects
From the AAA Foundation for traffic safety
Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists
offers helpful fact
sheets covering several types of disabilities, how they
affect driving skills and possible remedies including assistive
Aging and driving
Driving after a limb amputation
Driving after a spinal cord injury
Driving after a stroke
Driving after a traumatic brain
Driving and Alzheimer's / Dementia
Driving and cerebral palsy
Driving with multiple sclerosis
Driving with rheumatoid arthritis
The Association Web site Directory can help you find a specialist near you.
Support and Resources to Help After the Loss of a Driver's License
The loss of his or her Driver's License will
be a traumatic event for the senior.
The sudden loss of transportation may mean the loss of:
Independence and self-esteem
Access to family and friends
Employment and income
Access to trusted medical care
Ability to shop including grocery
shopping and prescriptions
Access to personal care
Social and cultural activities
and resources should be made immediately available to help the senior
during this crisis.
Multipurpose Senior Center (MSC)
is the primary source of assistance for seniors and their
families. Our "Find a
Senior Center Web page" can help you find an MSC near
The MSC Care Manager can help you with:
Local transportation and transit
programs for seniors,
Applying for the various benefits,
which a senior may be entitled to receive,
Social activities, trips, classes,
fitness, grocery shopping, assistance/escort for medical
appointments, nutrition sites near you, meals-on-wheels and much
Professional advice and support for
the senior's family.
are available to help a senior remain
independent in his or her own home.
Seniors who are actively involved with a religious institution can
find support from the congregation to keep this important component in
Increasingly groceries and prescriptions can be delivered to a
senior's home and you can explore this option.
When Your Family Member Who Shouldn't Drive Insists on Doing So
This Section is Published Through the Courtesy of Vicki L. Schmall, Ph.D.
It is important to involve older family members in decisions about
driving. However, when a person has a dementia, such as Alzheimer's
disease, family members need to take an active role in making and carrying
People with Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder simply may not
remember that they can no longer drive. Arguing or giving explanations
about why the person no longer can drive usually does not work. You will
likely only get more frustrated, and so will your family member. Families
have found many of the following actions - which are also suggested by the
Alzheimer's Association - worked for them.
prescription from the doctor that states "no driving"
Show this to your relative when s/he insists on getting behind the
When your family member insists on driving, try to get his or her
attention focused on something else. For example, one wife would say
to her husband, "I was just fixing a bowl of your favorite ice
cream. Let's eat it first." Another wife would say, "We
can't drive now. The car needs to be repaired."
Control access to
Do not leave car keys in view of your family member. Give him or her a
different, but similar-looking set of keys or have a locksmith file
the part of the key that turns the ignition. The person can still
enter the car, but will not be able to start it. Some people, however,
may become frustrated and angry when "the keys won't work."
Disable the car
A car mechanic can show you how to quickly disable a car - remove the
distributor cap or battery or unplug the starter wire - so it won't
run and what to do to get it to operate again. Another option is to
have a "kill wire" installed. It prevents the car from
starting unless a switch is thrown. If your family member lives alone,
this may not be a good option. As one family said:
"We knew how important Dad's car was to him. I had never seen
him cry so hard as the day we told him he could no longer drive. He
finally agreed not to drive, but wanted to keep his car in his
driveway. Since we did not know if he would remember that he was not
to drive, as a precaution, we made his car inoperable. What we did not
count on is that a week later he would call a mechanic to repair the
Move the car
For some people, seeing the car is what triggers the desire to drive.
Try parking the car where your family member does not see it but where
you can get easy access.
|Sell the car|
You might use the excuse that the car cannot be repaired or that the
car was no longer safe to drive.
In addressing driving concerns, it is important to remember that:
is not a right; it is a privilege, which the state may
grant or withhold.
older driver does not automatically equal an unsafe driver.
Do not hassle the older family member who is driving safely. Age is
not the most important criterion for determining an unsafe driver.
asking a person to give up driving, we are asking a great deal.
and owning a car have a symbolic meaning as well as practical
is important to work with your family member, so that it is his or
your family member is putting others at risk by driving, or is
cognitively impaired, you will need to take an active role in the
safety is a high priority. How well a person drives
affects the lives of everyone else on the road. Act if you must!
Updated on 08/19/2004