By the time my daughter has to worry about me driving past my prime, all cars will be driving themselves. That is comforting to me that she may be spared from giving me the talk. Most people my age have already had the talk with their elderly parents about when to turn in their keys. And we all come to the realization that seeing our parents lose their independence is a life changing and often devastating experience. After all, elderly drivers deserve dignity and respect.

State legislators have struggled to establish standards for determining when seniors should be kept off the road while being fair to elderly drivers who actually remain capable. The problem is, when we age, many things are compromised. Reaction time slows, confusion grows, quick decisions become more difficult and distractions have greater impact. Aging also causes vision problems that can interfere with driving. Cataracts (or, as my parents would call them “Cadillacs”) cloud vision and causes light sensitivity. Glaucoma raises pressure inside the eyeball, reducing peripheral vision. Macular degeneration causes loss of central portion vision, making it more difficult to see other cars or pedestrians coming toward you. The neck stiffens, making it difficult to turn the head and joints stiffen. Medications cause drowsiness and slow reaction time. And ailments such as Alzheimer’s disease (or “Old Timers” as my parents would say), diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and stroke limit the ability to drive.

Fatality rates for drivers begin to climb after age 65. And, from ages 75 to 84, the rate of about three deaths per 100 million miles driven is equal to the death rate of teenage drivers. For drivers 85 and older, the fatality rate shoots up to nearly four times higher than that for teens, according to a study done by the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Drivers 85 and older are involved in three fatal crashes per day, according to federal crash statistics. And road safety analysts predict that by the year 2030, when all baby boomers like me are at least 65, we will be responsible for 25% of all fatal crashes. Preparing for this boom in elderly drivers has inspired the Texas Legislature (for one) to pass a measure that has lead to more frequent vision tests and behind the wheel exams for drivers 79 and older.

Receiving a license renewal in the mail is another problem. If elderly drivers are forced to appear at the motor vehicle office to renew their licenses, they will be required to pass road tests, etc., to see if physical ability or mental ability has diminished. Side impacts are considered an old person’s crash, while vehicle rollovers are considered a young person’s crash.

Some elderly will decide themselves that it’s time to hang up their keys for good. But, if they don’t, the burden rests on spouses, family members, doctors and police to request that a license be revoked. So now, mosts states require drivers 79 and older to appear in person for license renewals and subject them to mandatory vision tests and behind-the-wheel exams. And drivers 85 and older will be required to renew every two years.

Until next week…

Daun Thompson
Writer / Comedienne / Artist

Elderly Drivers – Comedy Defensive Driving