Seniors age 80 and older have the highest rate of fatal crashes per mile driven – even higher than for teens – according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Vision problems, slower reactions and other effects of aging increase the risk of crashes. But most state legislatures ignore the problem. Only 19 states make seniors renew their licenses more often than younger drivers; only Illinois and New Mexico require annual renewal.
If you suspect that an older family member’s driving skills have seriously deteriorated, take a ride with him. Note whether he has trouble judging gaps in traffic, following traffic signals and road signs, maneuvering or parking the car, or remembering the route. If there’s a problem, “address it head-on,” says Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research at AAA. “Most people wait until after a crash and it’s too late,” he says.
Choose the most appropriate person in your family to broach the subject. Miriam Zucker, a geriatric care manager, suggests starting with the positives, emphasizing safety and perhaps the need to back off driving because of a medical condition. Say something like, “Dad, you’ve been a safe driver for 60 years, but with your cataracts, I know it’s harder for you to drive at night. If you got hurt or hurt someone else, that would be awful.”
Before you have the conversation, investigate transportation options in your area and their cost. Calculate how much money your family member would save by driving less or not at all, and point out that the savings could be used for other ways of getting around.
When an aging parent resists giving up driving, some families resort to disabling the car or hiding the keys. But it’s better to let the state department of motor vehicles make the decision. Often, the best way to make that happen is to take your case to your parent’s doctor.
Rules governing physicians, however, vary from state to state. In some, including New York, doctors can’t contact the DMV regarding a patient without the patient’s permission. (To see the laws in your state and more information about elder driving safety, go to SeniorDriving.AAA.com.)
A report to the DMV may trigger a review of your parent’s driving record or an order to retest the driver. It could also lead to a health evaluation. Depending on where you live, the report may be anonymous. If all else fails, you may have to obtain guardianship over your parent and get a court order to prevent him from driving, says Shirley Whitenack, a lawyer in New Jersey who specializes in elder-care law.Jessica Anderson is an associate editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit kiplinger.com.