The great debate about senior drivers and personal rights has swirled around for years. The issue is seniors driving beyond the age of suitable mental and physical abilities. While many drivers can operate a vehicle safely through their retirement years, there is a small perentage who refuse to give up their key despite medical issues ranging from poor eyesight to compromised mental state. The three factors that lead to elderly drivers becoming unsuitable on the road are: fading vision, diminishing physical dexterity and deterioration in cognitive abilities. On top of those are other problems such as acute conditions and diseases; Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and arthritis. There have been several high-profile accidents around the country in which an older driver has plowed into a crowd, and killed people. Should there be laws to take away their licenses at a certain age? Is it fair to risk others lives and safety while allowing possibly impaired seniors to keep driving? Does creating a law infringe on personal rights? It is a difficult and sensitive subject. There are many approaches to finding a solution. In any case it is best if senior drivers make their own decisions about when to leave the wheel, as forcing them can be very upsetting. But, sometimes adult children must have a frank talk with their parent, often easing in the idea that one day soon they must stop driving.
So how does one know it is time to stop driving? There are warning signs family, or the drivers themselves, can watch for that indicate it is time to give up the keys. These include frequent near-accidents, dents or scrapes on the vehicle or the mailbox, difficulty for the senior to see the sides of the road when looking straight ahead, and more than normal traffic stops. This conversation should warn the seniors about their responsibility, and the idea of harming someone in an accident. The conversation often is toughest with an elderly person who still has most of his faculties — just not enough to drive safely. If the family makes no head-way in convincing their parent, they may want to get some help. The senior may be more willing to listen to an authority figure, especially one who he trusts deeply. A trusted doctor could even write a prescription saying their patient cannot drive anymore.
The common reason elderly refuse to stop driving is a fear of losing their independence and mobility. To address this, map out a new transportation plan with them, there are many options, the proceeds from their vehicle could even be used for a ‘transportation budget’. Many churches, senior centers, and nonprofit groups provide ride services to the elderly. If none of those solutions are an option, there is conventional mass transit. You also can hire home-care agencies.
Today, one in seven licensed drivers is 65 years old or older, but within two decades that ratio will be almost one in four. And many are perfectly able to drive, in fact, they are sometimes better drivers, because they are generally more cautious. Older drivers are also much less likely than younger ones to be involved in crashes related to high speeds or alcohol. Today, there are even ‘drivers ed’ type classes specifically geared at the older age group. The class addresses issues that senior drivers may face.
In this country we put an immense emphasis on driving. It is a symbol for many of independence. Many states have easily put into effect rules that restrict driving for teenagers, but it isn’t as simple to put the hold on drivers later in life. While this problem will not go away, family intervention, classes targeted towards seniors, and new technology in vehicles are all worthwhile efforts at reducing the issue.
Posted by reedman on Jul 30 2009 in Lifestyle