Keeping Older Drivers Safe on the Road: A MyPhillyLawyer Guide

As drivers get older, their reaction times, eyesight and driving skills can deteriorate, making them less safe on the roads.

For families which have older drivers, including grandparents and elderly parents, this can be a difficult and sensitive subject to raise, but it is important that such discussions be considered and taken on.

We all remember the freedom, the thrill and the excitement of getting our driver’s license when we were teenagers. With that piece of paper came the wonderful realization that we could go anywhere, anytime, if we had wheels. That exhilaration and freedom doesn’t go away as we get older, which is why it can be difficult to talk to the older drivers in our lives when it becomes time to consider giving up their driving years.

No one wants to take driver’s licenses from older drivers without good reason, but older drivers can sometimes put themselves and others in danger by driving when their vehicle operating skills are no longer safe.

In Pennsylvania, drivers over 65 years of age must renew their licenses every two years by law, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  And by law, doctors and other medical personnel who are authorized to diagnose or treat disorders and disabilities such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia and other debilitating conditions, must report such cases to PennDOT in writing so that the cases of those individuals are investigated, according to the NHTSA. Physicians and other medical personnel are given immunity from civil or criminal actions involving such drivers if they report such cases when they come to their attention.

To discuss the issue, PennDOT has created several online resources to help educate older drivers and their families about how to analyze and approach the matter together. PennDOT’s Older Driver web page offers safety tips for older drivers, as well as warning signs for when older drivers should stop driving.

A steering wheel in an older Chrysler automobile.

A steering wheel in an older Chrysler automobile.

“While growing older does not necessarily constitute a safety risk, when to stop driving is a decision that should be made by the older driver and the older driver’s family,” PennDOT states. “Since driving is such a critical form of transportation for the older driver, it is also a very difficult decision to make. There is no clear-cut factor to look at in terms of stopping driving; however, PennDOT continually seeks to balance the safety of our roadways with the impact of loss of independence, autonomy, and mobility of the older driver.”

To help keep older drivers safe on the roadways, PennDOT recommends:

  • Have regular eye and medical exams. Near and distance vision is needed to drive safely.
  • Aging eyes become more sensitive to bright light and glare, so limit nighttime driving and try to avoid looking directly into headlights of approaching vehicles.
  • Avoid stressful driving situations such as rush hour travel, driving at night or driving in bad weather. Plan trips for daytime hours after 9 a.m. and before 5 p.m. to avoid rush hour traffic. Know your route and try to stay on familiar roads.
  • Avoid traveling in bad weather whenever possible.
  • Avoid taking medications before driving. Many medications — prescription and over-the-counter — cause drowsiness and can affect safe driving.
  • Make sure your driver’s seat and mirrors are properly adjusted prior to beginning a trip.
  • Maintain a safe speed and look ahead. Control your speed and look down the road for possible hazards to react before encountering a problem.
  • Always keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of you. A 4-second gap between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you is recommended.
  • When driving long distances, especially in winter, call ahead for weather and road condition updates.

As drivers age, these are some of the warning signs to watch for to determine if may be time to limit driving or stop driving altogether:

  • Feeling uncomfortable, nervous or fearful when driving;
  • Unexplained dents and scrapes on the car, fences, mailboxes, garage doors, etc.;
  • Frequent “close calls” (i.e. almost crashing);
  • Getting lost;
  • Slowed response to unexpected situations;
  • Being easily distracted or having a hard time concentrating while driving;
  • Difficulty staying in the lane of traffic;
  • Trouble paying attention to signals, road signs, and pavement markings;
  • Trouble judging gaps in traffic at intersections or highway entrance/exit ramps;
  • Medical conditions or medications that may be affecting abilities to handle a car safely; and
  • Frequent traffic tickets or “warnings” by traffic or law enforcement officers in the last two years.

PennDOT also offers a useful pamphlet on the subject, “Talking With Older Drivers: A Guide for Family and Friends.

To make such discussions easier, there are a wide range of other resources that can offer advice and guidance when it comes to assisting the older drivers in your life.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a detailed web site, including useful videos and lots of other information about the key medical conditions common among older drivers that can impact driving abilities.

AAA offers senior driver resources as well, including defensive driving courses aimed at older drivers and helpful tips on how to have these tough discussions with the older drivers in your life. Among the AAA suggestions for talking about the issues are:

  • Communicate openly and respectfully. Nobody wants to be called a dangerous driver, so avoid generalizations about older drivers or jumping to conclusions about their skills or abilities behind the wheel. Be positive, be supportive and focus on ways to help keep them safely on the go.
  • Avoid an intervention. Keep the discussion between you and the older driver you want to assist. Inviting the whole family to the conversation will alienate and possibly anger the person you’re trying to help.
  • Make privacy a priority. Always ask for permission to speak with an older driver’s physician, friends or neighbors about the driver’s behavior behind the wheel.
  • Never make assumptions. Focus on the facts available to you, such as a medical condition or medication regimen that might make driving unsafe. Do not accuse an older driver of being unsafe or assume that driving should be stopped altogether. Focus the conversation on safe driving and working together.

Yes, this is a touchy, difficult subject to bridge with the older drivers in our lives. But it’s a discussion that we must have to protect older drivers who might be at risk, as well as other drivers, pedestrians and others in society who stand to be harmed by elderly persons who are no longer safe vehicle operators.

Compassion, understanding, love and concern are all a part of the discussion. It is not easy, but when the time comes, it is for the safety of everyone involved.

We here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to assist you with your legal case if you or a loved one is ever seriously injured in any kind of vehicle crash anywhere in the United States. We pledge to make sure that you and your family get the compassionate, dogged and experienced legal representation that you deserve and expect from a professional legal team which works hard to uncover every fact to bolster your case and maximize your damage award.

We represent the families of victims who die in such tragedies as well, to ensure that their families receive every penny of damages that they are eligible to receive.

Call MyPhillyLawyer at 215-789-9346 or toll-free at 1-866-920-0352 anytime and our experienced, compassionate, aggressive team of attorneys and support staff will be there for you and your family every step of the way as we manage your case through the legal system.

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