How To Evaluate Elderly Driving Skills

Loved ones often do not realize how much their driving skills have deteriorated. Reaction time slows. Motor control and coordination suffer as well.

Age should never be the dominant factor in determining if an older person is fit to drive; some drivers may be very capable and safe at 80, while others no longer operate on a safe level at 55 or 60. Older drivers are also frailer than their younger counterparts. Even a small accident can have serious health consequences.

Self Test

Here's a self test to help you determine if it might be time to give up driving. As with any self-test, try to be as objective as possible when evaluating whether or not it is time to hang up the keys. Answers to these questions may provide some valuable insight into how you're doing.

  1. Does traffic seem to be much faster now than you remember in the past? Does traffic build up behind your car? Do cars at intersections always seem to be going way too fast? While it may seem that other cars are driving much faster, it's doubtful that they really are speeding. It is well-known that reaction time slows as we age. As reaction time slows, many elderly drivers rightfully drive a little slower and avoid driving during peak hours to compensate. However, at some point you can drive a little too slow for safety. If you don't feel like you can safely make left turns into busy intersections, it may be time to stop driving.
  2. Do you have more "close calls" than in years past? The statistics indicate that we begin to have more accidents as we reach retirement age. Drivers over 65 get progressively worse as they age. On a per-mile basis, elderly drivers are the most dangerous-more so than even teenagers age 16-18. Have several family members and friends made suggestions that you should give up the car keys? It may take a little humility, but sometimes a true friend is an honest friend. If loved ones seem to be making some statements recommending that you don't drive, it might be time to listen.
  3. Has your eyesight deteriorated? Sometimes it's hard to admit, but eyesight diminishes with time. Are stop signs sometimes hard to read? Do you miss road signs because you can't see them? Most states require drivers to have their eyes examined every time they renew their license. If you're concerned, you should either have your eyes examined or conduct your own eye test. Minimum acuity for an unrestricted license is usually 20/40. License restrictions usually begin when eyesight deteriorates to anywhere between 20/50 to 20/60, depending on your state of residence. Restrictions vary, and may include limits on the time of day you can drive, requirements that corrective eyewear be worn when driving, and/or restrictions on freeway driving. 20/70 is usually the minimum acuity to keep any type of driver's license.
  4. Do you have trouble hearing? Being too hearing-impaired to notice sirens can lead to some dangerous situations, so seniors in doubt may want to be examined to identify and possibly compensate for hearing loss.

Testing others

The simplest way to evaluate an elderly person's driving skills is to go along for a ride. Offer to ride to the grocery store or somewhere else close by. You don't have to make it look like a driving test -- simply offer to go and take mental notes. The checklist above can serve as a guide for your observation as well.

Keep in mind that deterioration of driving skills is a sensitive topic. Tact and sensitivity are essential, but if you are concerned that a loved one might be jeopardizing his safety or that of others, you have a responsibility to monitor his driving and confront the issue, rather than ignoring it. Seek the help of other loved ones in your efforts to convince an unsafe driver to turn in the keys.


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