Dangerous Driving and Seniors
Behavior that may indicate a person's driving threatens personal safety and that of others.
Has difficulty following instructions and directions.
Coasts to a near stop in the midst of moving traffic.
Drifts into other lanes of traffic.
Stops abruptly without cause.
Presses simultaneously on the brake and accelerator while driving.
Delays changing lanes when an obstacle appears in the lane in which s/he is driving.
Fails to appreciate the frustration, exasperation, or irritation exhibited by other drivers toward his or her driving.
Does not signal when turning or changing lanes.
Has accidents, near misses, or "fender benders."
Gets lost in familiar places.
Fails to obey traffic laws, road signs, or signals.
Drives against traffic, on the wrong side of the road (definite danger).
Makes errors in signal use, steering, braking, speed, and accelerator use.
Has difficulty seeing pedestrians, objects, and other vehicles.
Is increasingly nervous when driving.
Becomes increasingly flustered in traffic or by more aggressive drivers.
Fails to yield the right-of-way or yields the right-of-way inappropriately.
Drives significantly slower than the posted speed or general speed of other vehicles.
Turns from an improper lane or at an improper time or pace at intersections (especially when turning left).
Ignores or coasts through stop signs.
Backs up after missing an exit (definite danger).
Falls asleep while driving or gets drowsy.
Does not pay attention to other drivers or road hazards.
Does not react to emergency situations.
When any of these signs appear, it is time to assess the situation. Don't wait for an accident. Also if a person is having problems related to daily living - such as hygiene, grooming and paying bills - he or she may be having difficulties with driving.
Reduction in Skills Needed for Safe Driving
Physical and mental changes associated with the aging processes often lead to reductions in the skills needed for safe driving. The use of multiple prescription drugs may cause drowsiness or anxiety, thus impairing driving skills. Common medications can impair driving. Brain impairments. Incidence and prevalence of the major causes of adult-onset brain impairment in the U.S.
The eyes become slower to adapt to light and darkness, which can create sensitivity to bright sunlight and glare. The eyes also lose some ability to process light, which makes seeing at night harder. Depth perception and judging the speed of oncoming traffic also weaken.
Common health problems, like arthritis, can make it harder to drive by limiting people's ability to turn the head easily or move a foot from the accelerator to the brake.
How is your physical fitness?
Flexibility allows you to see what is happening on the road. Exercise can help to improve your range of motions.
The use of multiple prescription drugs may cause drowsiness. Sleeping and driving don't mix.
Attention and reaction time
Older drivers often find it difficult to react quickly as they process multiple images or sounds, such as when they're looking for street signs while monitoring traffic and talking with a passenger.
Losing the Right to Drive is a Traumatic Event
Driving is viewed as a necessity. When a disability occurs, it can affect the skills necessary for independent living.
Ethical and Moral Concerns
Few seniors plan for the time when they will be unable to drive, yet many will eventually face this decision. Most believe they will know when it is time to stop driving. However most seniors also know friends who continue driving and can no longer operate a vehicle safely.
Giving up the car keys is viewed by elders and those around them as a major event with significant implications regarding independence, self-sufficiency (especially in Los Angeles), and social responsibilities.
Many seniors face this dilemma:
"Do I continue to drive even when driving begins to pose real safety risks for myself and others?" Faced with this dilemma, some individuals stop driving, while others continue to drive.
Giving up driving is a major event for an older person and a senior's loss of independence also has significant implications for his or her family.
Children are reluctant to discuss this emotional issue and may be concerned about hurting the senior's feeling. Some family members may also be afraid of losing the senior's affection or of retaliation.
Family members may be unprepared to provide the additional level of care and support needed by an increasingly dependent elder.
Many family members must face this decision:
"Do I continue to let a senior drive even when driving begins to pose real safety risks for him or her, other family members and the public?" Some family members refuse to intervene but would not let their own young children ride with the senior driver.
Physicians must balance their ethical responsibilities to patients and to the public. In December, 1999, the American Medical Association changed its ethical guidelines to let doctors notify the motor vehicle department in their states about patients with medical conditions that could make them unsafe drivers. This policy makes public safety a priority over the confidentiality of patients and does not have universal support among physicians.
Most organizations providing services to seniors are aware of elders who can no longer drive safely but continue to do so and are placing themselves and the public at risk.
Like physicians, social workers attempt to balance their ethical responsibilities to clients and to the public. They are also very concerned that their organization not get a reputation for "turning in" seniors to the Department of Motor Vehicles, thus discouraging elders from seeking their services.
Elected representatives are caught between constituents clamoring for public safety through increased screenings of older drivers, and pressure from seniors and advocacy organizations fighting against age discrimination.
In several states, legislative attempts to add to the testing requirements for older drivers have met with successful opposition from senior groups (such as AARP and the Congress of California Seniors). Additional driving tests for the elderly continues to be a highly controversial topic.
An interesting comparison of the Driver Licensing Renewal Procedures for Older Drivers in the U.S. as of May 2004 can be found on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Web site.
Many renewal requirements now focus on health, not age, in determining whether people should be retested.
A DMV Web page addresses these questions:
* What can DMV do about a person who may be unable to drive safely due to a physical or mental condition or disorder?
* What types of medical conditions can affect a person's ability to drive safely?
* How does DMV find out about persons who may be unsafe to drive due to a physical or mental condition or disorder?
* How do I let DMV know about a family member, relative or acquaintance whom I believe may no longer be a safe driver?
* What types of conditions must a physician report to DMV?
How to Refer an Unsafe Driver
If you are concerned for the safety of a family member, friend, or other person who can no longer drive safely, you may write to your local Driver Safety Office or the address given below. You should provide the person's name as shown on the license, birth date, driver license number (if known) and current address, and explain what you observed that led you to believe the person is an unsafe driver. The letter must be signed; however, you may request that your name be kept confidential.
Write your letter to:
Department of Motor Vehicles
Driver Safety Actions Unit M/S J234
P.O. Box 942890
Sacramento, CA 94290-0001
DMV will contact the person for a reexamination and, if necessary, administer a driving test to determine whether or not the person is safe to drive. The person may be issued a restricted license. It is possible that the person's driving privilege may be revoked as a safety measure, not only for the safety of that individual but also for the safety of the rest of the driving public.
Confidentiality of Reporter
Anonymous reports will not be considered. However, you can ask to keep your name confidential and DMV will not tell the person who made the report.
According to Vehicle Code §1808.5, all records received by DMV, which report a physical or mental condition are confidential and cannot be made public:
"Except as provided in Section 22511.58, all records of the department relating to the physical or mental condition of any person, and convictions of any offense involving the use or possession of controlled substances under Division 10 (commencing with Section 11000) of the Health and Safety Code not arising from circumstances involving a motor vehicle, are confidential and not open to public inspection."
The reexamination process may include an interview, a written test and a driving test.
DMV may send the person a form (DS 326: Driver Medical Evaluation) and a notice to call a Driver Safety office for a DMV reexamination. The physician treating the person must complete the medical form. It is important for the person to come in for his or her DMV appointment and bring the completed medical form, otherwise his or her driving privilege will be suspended.
A detailed description and a copy of the Driver Medical Evaluation Form can be obtained on-line.
Starting January 2001, a driving test will be given to any person when a:
*Physician reports the person has lapses of consciousness.
*Traffic officer requests a DMV review and the officer believes the driver is incapable of operating a vehicle safely.
*Relative makes a good-faith report to DMV stating the driver cannot safely operate a vehicle.
A determination may be made that no condition exists which warrants an action against the driving privilege. The department may also find that a condition exists which warrants:
*Reexamination on a specified date (Calendar Reexamination)
*Medical Probation I: driver must comply with medical regimen and report any changes to the department
*Medical Probation II: annual medical reports required to be submitted to the department on specified dates
*Limited Term Licenses: license issued by the field office for one to two years which requires the driver to return to the department for reevaluation and/or testing
*Revocation: The hearing officer may revoke the person's driving privilege if he or she does not do well on the written test or it is clear that the person does not have the skills needed for safe driving. For this reason, DMV suggests that someone accompany the person to the interview. The loss of license will be a traumatic event. Support and resources should be made immediately available to help the senior during this crisis.
No-Fee Identification Card
The driver license is often a person's primary means of identification. Its loss often means the person will not have a handy form of photo identification for check cashing purposes, qualifications for services, etc. DMV understands that a person needs some form of identification. So If a senior's driving privilege has been revoked because he or she is no longer able to drive safely, or he or she develops a physical or mental condition which interferes with his or her driving performance and voluntarily surrenders the driver license, then DMV will exchange a valid driver license for an identification card (ID) free of charge, as long as the license has not expired.
Automobile Club of Southern California
Public Safety Dept. H206
2601 S. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90007
California State Automobile Association
Traffic Safety Dept.
150 Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94101
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
1440 New York Avenue, Suite 201
Washington, DC 20005
Arrange for a private driver evaluation
If you, or those who drive with you, are concerned about your safety, you may chose to have a private driver evaluation.
A driver rehabilitation specialist can provide a comprehensive evaluation to determine your ability to drive.
This assessment should include:
Support and Resources to Help After the Loss of a Driver's License
The loss of his or her Driver's License will be a traumatic event for the senior. The sudden loss of transportation may mean the loss of:
Independence and self-esteem
Access to family and friends
Employment and income
Access to trusted medical care
Ability to shop including grocery shopping and prescriptions
Access to personal care
Social and cultural activities
Support and resources should be made immediately available to help the senior during this crisis.
Professional advice and support for the senior's family.
Specialized Resources are available to help a senior remain independent in his or her own home.
Seniors who are actively involved with a religious institution can find support from the congregation to keep this important component in their life.
Increasingly groceries and prescriptions can be delivered to a senior's home and you can explore this option.