STUDY: Older Driving Holding Onto Licenses For Longer

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Nov 05, 2010 in Car Accidents

It's no secret that the population is aging. In West Virginia, 15.5 percent of the population is aged 65 and older; nationally, the 65+ set make up 12.6 percent of the population. It's no secret, either, that older people are holding on to their drivers' licenses longer -- at least, it's not a secret now that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has issued results of its study on aging and driving. The IIHS confirmed that the number of drivers aged 70 and over is on the rise, and those drivers are getting behind the wheel more often than before.

The study also warned families and caregivers of that population not to get a false sense of security from the overall low crash rate for people over 70. It seems the crash rate per mile traveled starts to go up at age 70 and increases sharply at 80. But social research tells us that American's hate to give up driving and the independence and sense of connectedness that go with it. The question, then, is how to keep those drivers -- and the people on the roads with them -- safe.

Insurance companies have been looking into the driving while elderly issue for some time. One industry insider says that their research has shown time and time again that it's not the age of the driver that increases the risk of an accident. Just as those of us under 70, the driver's skill is what makes the difference.

Adult children should help their parents assess their driving skills -- turning the tables, in a way, on all those lessons behind the wheel of the family station wagon, with moms and dads clutching the dashboard during every left turn. In many cases, though, it's not an easy exercise.

If it's possible, say experts, discussions about driving and when the parent will surrender the keys should happen before the parents are in trouble. Some families start planning when the parents are contemplating retirement. If it's not possible to take the "early and often" approach, kids and caregivers should help older drivers understand their limitations, making sure to help them find alternatives as well.

Part of the process is knowing what to watch out for. When a passenger with the older driver, keep an eye out for close calls and trouble judging distances between the car and other vehicles as well as between the car and other objects (the garage door, for example). Listen for other drivers' horns -- it's a good sign that your elderly driver is making other people on the road nervous. Watch for signs that the driver is having trouble concentrating, and monitor their reaction time. Another warning sign is when the driver gets lost in territory that should be familiar.

Before taking the keys away, try to limit the time of day the driver will be on the road. Many elderly drivers feel more comfortable not driving at night, for example. Think, too, about ways to avoid congested areas and high speed roads. Though certainly not immune from accidents, city streets during non-rush hours are less likely to stress the driver out.

Families who have been through this recommend being respectful of a parent's abilities and focusing on alternatives, even other methods of transportation. For families that cannot get through to their elderly parent, a chat with the parent's doctor may help. Medical professionals may have more luck convincing mom and dad it's time to give up the Lincoln.

Resource: USA Today "Baby Boomers' Dilemma: When Should Mom, Dad Stop Driving?" 11/4/10

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