Crawford Care Management

Older Drivers

The recent tragic events in California and Florida where older drivers killed and injured pedestrians left many seemingly unaware citizens clamoring for a solution to a national issue. Should we test older drivers? If so, beginning at what age, how frequently, using what tool? The facts are laden with emotional results. There is no easy way to address this public safety issue, but it must be done before the baby boomers reach their golden years when one in four drivers will be 65 years old or older.

In most states, at 16 years old, teens become eligible for a license and view the freedom that comes with it as a clear sign of adulthood. That same freedom is treasured by the older driver. Taking away the car keys is viewed as a punishment, loss of control, and the final humiliation often preceded by loss of friends and relatives, loss of home, job, etc.

In 2003, the American Medical Association announced that it was recommending that physicians take responsibility for evaluating a patient's ability to drive. The recommendation suggests that the conversation begin with asking the patient if they are having any trouble driving. It will be interesting to see how many admit to their doctor if they are experiencing any difficulty. The physicians may also be reluctant to press the patient for information regarding driving to avoid disturbing their relationship or causing the patient to discontinue visits.

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), driving is one of few activities handled by adults regularly that basically require all senses to function together and well. Drivers must use their vision to observe indicators and signs both inside and outside the vehicle. They must be able to hear warning signs, motor vehicle sounds, and horns while driving and yet shouldn't be easily distracted by other passengers conversation. Older drivers with medical conditions that might diminish their ability to sense touch very well may have difficulty feeling the steering wheel, or even being aware of how much pressure to put on the gas or brake pedal. Even using the sense of smell to detect a mechanical problem or a brush fire along a route to avoid may be diminished by physical deterioration or even some medications. ALL the senses are important while operating a vehicle. The loss or deterioration of any sense could have tragic outcome.

Like making any suggestion to an older loved one, kindness, empathy, and respect are the keys to a successful discussion and hopefully attaining the goal. Acknowledge the loss of freedom and be sure to have suggestions for alternative transportation options. Many locations have senior bus services, cabs, and private cars for hire. Also, relatives, neighbors, and friends can coordinate routine transportation services to grocery stores, drug stores, and other non-emergency trips. The most important component to successfully helping the older driver to transition away from operating a vehicle is to discuss the situation with sensitivity, respecting the individual's desire to maintain his/her independence, and to offer alternatives. The rewards include safety for the individual as well as those in the community.