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Signs That It May Be Time To Take The Keys From Your Elderly Loved One

Old women driving car

Warning Signs for Michigan’s Aging Population to Stop Driving

Michigan has one of the oldest populations in the country so that means more aging drivers to share the road with. It is important to understand how aging changes in health status can impact the ability to drive safely. Specific skills, such as vision, memory, strength, flexibility, and quick reaction time, generally decline as a person reaches age 55. While older drivers are more likely to avoid risky driving behaviors like texting or speeding, health and safety officials say there are several struggles aging populations may have when practicing safe driving and most relate to keeping up with the common driving practices and rules taught in basic driver education.

The Senior Mobility Work Group of Michigan is a statewide group of traffic safety partners organized under the direction of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commission. The group has identified these most common driving areas where aging populations are struggling most across the state.

  1. When making left turns
  2. While driving at night
  3. Merging into traffic
  4. Properly changing lanes
  5. Keeping up with the flow of traffic
  6. Yielding to traffic and pedestrians
  7. Following traffic signals and road signage
  8. Impaired driving, including prescription and over-the-counter medication

Most of these issues arise because of regular age-related conditions. For example, older eyes may find it hard to see clearly, and may become more sensitive to glare from headlights, and the sun as well. In addition, vision often declines as people age and eye diseases make it harder to read signs and see colors. Aging drivers may also find it harder to hear horns, trains, sirens, and noises from cars or pedestrians, which warn of possible danger. Their motor skills and range of motion can decline with age as well as their attention span, judgment, and ability to make decisions and react quickly, all characteristics required for good driving. In addition, age-related diseases such as Parkinson’s and conditions like arthritis and diabetes may make it more difficult for an aging driver to safely operate a motor vehicle.

Recognizing That Driving Is a Risk

Self-awareness is the key to safe driving at any age but since this everyday skill may be slower for older population, aging drivers may not be fully aware of the risk they carry each time they hit the road. A simple self-assessment and answering “yes” or “no” to these few questions, written by the researchers and clinicians at the American Medical Association, can help aging drivers and their family members decide if driving abilities need to be evaluated.

  • I get lost while driving
  • My friends or family members say they are worried about my driving
  • Other cars seem to appear from nowhere
  • I have trouble finding and reading signs in time to respond to them
  • Other drivers drive too fast
  • Other drivers often honk at me
  • I feel uncomfortable, nervous, or fearful while driving
  • After driving, I feel tired
  • I feel sleepy when I drive
  • I have had some “near-misses” lately
  • Busy intersections bother me
  • Left-hand turns make me nervous
  • The glare from oncoming headlights bothers me
  • My medication makes me dizzy or drowsy
  • I have trouble turning the steering wheel
  • I have trouble pushing down the foot pedal
  • I have trouble looking over my shoulder when I back up
  • I have been stopped by the police for my driving
  • People no longer will accept rides from me
  • I have difficulty backing up
  • I have had crashes that were my fault in the past year
  • I am too cautious when driving
  • I sometimes forget to use my mirrors or signals
  • I sometimes forget to check for oncoming traffic
  • I have more trouble parking lately

When an older driver renews their driver’s license, they will be asked a few general health questions as part of the screening process and it is important they are truthful. If there is any question about the aging operator’s physical condition or their ability to drive a motor vehicle safely, they will be required to meet with their physician. If a physician’s statement indicates a serious physical or mental condition at the time of renewal, the driver will be required to attend a driver reexamination. At this stage, most aging drivers will decide it is best to no longer operate a motor vehicle.

Older Drivers Should Use Self-Restricting Driving Strategies

Drivers who use smart self-management to review their driving skills can retain their independence longer, while limiting risks to themselves and others. Many older drivers self-restrict their driving to avoid risky situations. Some common strategies are to:

  • Drive only during the daylight if you are having trouble seeing at night
  • Drive only during good weather conditions
  • Avoid rush hour and heavy traffic
  • Avoid fast-paced highway driving
  • Avoid driving in unfamiliar areas
  • Stop driving if taking prescription drugs or medications with known impaired risks

It’s important to remember that not all road users are drivers. In Michigan, accidents occur between drivers and pedestrians, or those riding bicycles or motorcycles too. A few additional strategies provided by the Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commission to travel safe with all users include:

  • If left turns are a problem or make you nervous, make three right turns, make left turns at traffic lights with a turn arrow, or pick a less busy intersection for your turn
  • Map out safe routes, such as those with well-lit streets, less traffic, left turns with left-turn arrows, clear signs, and easy parking
  • Drive with a friend
  • Let someone else drive when you are uncomfortable

Some older drivers do not realize their driving skills have deteriorated and although difficult, families or friends may need to discuss the problem with them and request they restrict driving or discontinue operating a motor vehicle all together. If that doesn’t work, reporting an unsafe driver may seem drastic, but in some cases, it may be the only way to handle a serious situation and help reduce their car crash risk or injury, including death, to others.

Talk to Us About Your Michigan Car Accident Caused by an Aging Driver

Drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and passengers who suffer injuries caused by an older driver who should not be driving may be entitled to compensation to help cover related medical costs, income loss, and recovery needs. Please share your accident story with our motor vehicle accident attorneys at 1-800-LEE-FREE (1-800-533-3733) or fill out the Free Case Evaluation Form. And remember, you pay nothing until we win or settle your case.

Resources for aging drivers: