CommunityPam's House Blend

Take the keys away?

I was reading this press release from the AARP about older driver safety and the top 10 signs to look out for to know when it’s time to take the keys away.

How do you approach a family member when age related changes impact driving ability? How long should someone stay on the road? Families nationwide are struggling with these sensitive issues. Elinor Ginzler, AARP’s director of livable communities and a leading authority on older driver safety, encourages families to talk openly with loved ones about safe driving practices. According to Ginzler, these are top 10 signs that it’s time to talk about limiting driving or handing over the keys:

1. Frequent “close calls” (i.e. near accidents).
2. Dents, scrapes, on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs etc.
3. Trouble judging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance/exit ramps.
4. Other drivers honking at you.
5. Getting lost.
6. Difficulty seeing the sides of the road when looking straight ahead.
7. Slower response time; trouble moving foot from gas to brake pedal or confusing the two pedals.
8. Getting distracted easily or having trouble concentrating.
9. Difficulty turning your head to check over shoulder while backing up or changing lanes.
10. Traffic tickets or “warnings” by traffic or law enforcement officers in the last year or two.

This is a serious issue, because the autonomy that seniors treasure is lost when they are no longer able to drive themselves around and public transportation is not readily available.

On the other hand, you have people with dementia, and limited vision/reflexes out there, posing a hazard to themselves and others on the road. Seniors are a powerful voting lobby, so many efforts to require road tests and compentency for license renewal over a certain age have been shot down. And the problem is a big one as the population ages.

Seniors have lower fatal crash rates per 100,000 licensed drivers when compared with teenage drivers and slightly higher rates than drivers of other age groups. One reason is that seniors drive fewer miles and take shorter trips than other drivers. Even this statistic, alone, can be misleading. When their crashes are adjusted to reflect the number of miles traveled, seniors’ crash rates go up with their increased exposure.

This is important to law enforcement officials because the empirical data are based on the historical likeliness that seniors were driving fewer miles as they aged. Analysts predict that more senior drivers will drive more miles in the future. The resulting projections are daunting: the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety predicts that the number of senior citizens involved in reported car crashes will increase by 178 percent between 1999 and 2030. During the same period, seniors’ involvement in fatal crashes is projected to increase by 155 percent.

On the other end of the age spectrum, at least in NC and some other states, Graduated Driver’s Licenses — that restrict the number of people that can be in a car and the times of the day that a teen can be on the road — have been able to be implemented. It has resulted in an 11% drop in crash fatalities among 16-year-olds.

There are studies out there tying the ease of license renewal for seniors and the level of fatal accidents. Here is a U.S. DOT page on what the laws are around the country. Here is NC’s:

5-year renewal cycle (in-person). Vision and traffic sign recognition tests required for renewal. Acuity 20/40 in better eye required for unrestricted; 20/70 better eye with restrictions. Bioptic telescopes are not permitted for meeting acuity standard, but are permitted for driving. No special requirements for older drivers, except that people age 60+ are not required to parallel park in the road test.


This reminds me of a story Kate told me a while back about Homewood, a town near Birmingham, where a significant number of elderly citizens live. They frequent the old fashioned street malls there (the kind where you pull up to the storefronts). An ungodly amount of accidents occurred when a driver (probably with dementia), put the car into drive instead of reverse and shot through the plate glass windows of the stores.

While home on a visit, she saw a newspaper of yet another incident showing a picture of a storefront with its new ventilation, courtesy of a senior who was confused. There was also an empty baby stroller in the picture, left by a frantic mother that ripped her child from the pram in the nick of time before it was whacked by the careening vehicle.

This kind of incident occurred so frequently that a measure to put concrete pylons on the sidewalks to block the cars from racing into the merchandise was proposed. It was turned down because the resident thought it would “ruin the aesthetics” of the community. As if the shattered glass and debris were not an eyesore.


Overall, it seems the roads around here are teeming with people of all ages who cannot drive worth a damn. It seems like every day I am behind someone who either:
* can’t/won’t use a turn signal (or leaves it on forever, never noticing)
* has to slow down to a near-complete stop to make a turn
* is driving in a distracted state (on the phone, doing makeup, eating, zoning out) and weaving in and out of lanes

I’m a patient driver most of the time, I don’t normally honk at people (Kate was so incensed at one ass-hat in front of us one time that she reached over and honked the horn — I was driving).

Last week, though, I almost came unhinged when a man in front of me in a land yacht was driving about 20 mph. I started thinking “please don’t turn to get on the freeway” but lo and behold he turns (almost at a dead stop) and starts down the on ramp.

This is a nice downhill ramp, where you can get up enough speed to merge into traffic without effort. What does Mr. Driver do? He obviously panics at the fact that gravity is making his heavy land yacht accelerate down the ramp and puts the brakes on. The freeway is nearly empty, but he thinks the four cars on it are a threat to his ability to get his vehicle onto the roadway, and he reaches a dead stop. I look in my rearview mirror and see other motorists flying down the ramp toward us and screeching. Jeebus H. Christ.

Do you have any “memorable driver” moments to share?

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding