Elderly Driver Awareness Week

Published on December 9th, 2020

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) initiated Older Driver Safety Awareness Week in 2009 and for 11 years has worked with elderly adults and families to make sure those who want to continue driving do so safely. According to AOTA, their goal for Older Driver Safety Awareness Week is to promote the understanding of the importance of mobility and transportation to ensure older adults remain active in the community, whether shopping, working, or volunteering, with the confidence that transportation will not be a barrier.

As our population ages, the AOTA and its initiatives are increasingly more valuable as evidenced by the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) CDC, the US has 44 million licensed drivers over the age of 65. In one year, nearly 8,000 drivers 65+ were killed in motor vehicle accidents (2017 statistics) and over 257,000 older drivers sustained injuries requiring ER care. Drivers over 75 have an even higher risk of dying or getting injured in a car accident.

In this article, we address some of the health changes that may affect driving skills, warning signs when drivers may need to turn over their keys and what alternatives are available to the elderly to make sure they can still be independent and mobile without driving.

Changes in Health May Affect Driving Skills

Recent and ongoing health changes can impact those drivers who are over age 65:

  • Stiff Joints and Muscles: As we age, muscles may weaken and joints stiffen. Arthritis joint pain is common among older adults and may make it difficult for elderly drivers to turn their heads to look in the back, check around their vehicle for blind spots and/or turning the steering wheels, turning on lights and turn signals along with being able to brake safely.
  • Eyesight: Many elderly adults experience gradually worsening eyesight impacting their ability to clearly see people and objects and they can also have difficulty reading signs or clearly seeing traffic signals. Those with eyesight decline may also have significant issues driving at night and can be blinded by glare from oncoming vehicle headlights.
  • Hearing: Similar to eyesight, the inability to hear horns or sirens can be dangerous if those driving need to get out of the way.
  • Reflexes: Aging drivers may also experience reflexes getting slower and that they cannot react as quickly as in the past and/or have a shorter attention span, therefore, making it more challenging to do multiple things at one time.
  • Medications: It’s vitally important to understand the side effects of any medication being administered and at any age. Warnings of drugs causing drowsiness, and lightheadedness can make driving unsafe.
  • Dementia: In the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, some people are able to keep driving but driving should be stopped when memory and decision-making skills get worse. The challenge with those who have dementia is they are often unaware they have memory issues let alone driving problems. Family and friends need to monitor the person’s driving ability and take action as soon as they observe a potential problem, such as forgetting how to find familiar places like the grocery store or even their home.

Any one of the challenges above can impact a driver’s ability to respond as needed on the road but often, elderly drivers can experience multiple conditions impacting their technical skills and/or alertness and this can quickly result in a disaster on the road. Any deficiency can cause, making it harder to do two things at once. If you or a loved one is having concerns with driving a vehicle, resources are available to have driving skills checked by a driving rehabilitation specialist, occupational therapist, or other trained professional. Licensed drivers can take a defensive driving course or contact organizations such as AARP, American Automobile Association (AAA), or even the vehicle owners’ insurance company may be able to help find a class or assessment facility nearby.

Signs an Elderly Person Needs to Stop Driving

It’s time to turn over the keys and stop driving if family or friends observe the following of an elderly driver:

  • Multiple vehicle crashes, “near misses,” and/or new dents in the car
  • Multiple traffic tickets or even warnings within the past two years. While those observing may not be aware of police records, if you are managing the individual’s finances, check increasing insurance premiums due to driving citations.
  • Complaints about the speed, sudden lane changes, or actions of other drivers or even neighbors commenting about driving behaviors.
  • Getting lost while driving – especially on familiar roads.
  • Get first-hand accounting of the driver’s abilities by taking a ride around a neighborhood to assess skills and abilities behind the wheel.

The Dreaded “Stop Driving” Discussion

Eventually, the elderly individual you have concerns about will need to turn over the keys and stop driving. Typically this is not an easy situation to manage and comes with great challenges. To make the transition less difficult, having early and ongoing conversations with your elder about any anxieties they may have regarding driving in certain conditions and/or the fear of not being able to drive will go a long way in making them comfortable in that they can still be independent without being behind the wheel.

  • Prepare in Advance: Take the time prior to having a conversation with the elderly and learn about services in their local community to help with transportation needs and/or getting services that can be delivered.
  • Avoid Confrontation: It’s best to take the concern from your perspective vs blaming the elder and using “I” vs “you” in your conversation. For example, say “I’m very concerned for your safety and others on the road when you’re driving” rather than “Your driving could cause an accident”.
  • Address Aging Driver Concerns: Always focus on facts and address the driver’s skills and not their age.
  • Prioritize Safety While Maintaining Independence: Be clear that the goal is for the older driver to continue to live life “as is” but do so safely.
  • Always Be Supportive: recognize the meaning behind a driver’s license to an older person – it’s the last bit of freedom they have and it’s natural that they may become defensive and angry giving it up. Figure out ways to provide the individual with the same freedom but not behind the wheel of a vehicle endangering their own life and others.

Alternative Transportation for All Ages

When having a discussion with elders or any age group that needs to stop driving, it’s important to provide reputable resources to help the aging still get around and be able to get the things they need without huge expense or inconvenience. Also note, elders may find these solutions far cheaper than owning a car and paying for insurance, maintenance, and gas.

Some areas provide free or low-cost bus or taxi services for older people and carpool services or scheduled trips to the grocery store, mall, or doctor’s office. There are also religious and civic groups who enlist volunteer services to help the elderly with the delivery of goods or driving them to various destinations.

To learn more about the available services in your local areas, call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 or go to Eldercare.acl.gov.

Senior Drivers in Illinois

Drivers who age 75+ are required to take a driving test annually to renew their driver’s licenses and therefore they must visit a Driver Services Facility prior to their license expiration date and they will be required to take both a vision and road test. Super Seniors (85+) is a voluntary program for driver’s license renewal, which includes Rules of the Road classroom instruction, and a vision-screening exam. The Illinois Secretary of State operates the Super Seniors Program, a voluntary mobile program that goes to libraries, senior centers, and park districts and helps seniors ages 74 and under renew their licenses by giving both Rules of the Road classroom instruction and a vision-screening exam.

Illinois License Renewal Rules – Drivers:

  • Ages 21 through 80 are issued licenses that are good for four years that expire on their birthdays.
  • Ages 81 through 86 must renew their licenses every two years.
  • Ages 87+ must renew their licenses every year.

Illinois License Restrictions

Family, friends, and/or drivers can find detailed information within Title 92 of the Transportation Chapter II, Secretary of State Part 1030 Issuance of Licenses Section 1030.92 Restrictions. Details include who can determine restrictions, how restrictions are granted, and the type of restriction including physical, hearing, vision, and not excluding mechanical aids (harness, gear shift extension, prosthetic). Restrictions may include but are not limited to, vehicle modifications, driving during daylight vs nighttime, and type of vehicle.

When applying for a restricted license, the Illinois Secretary of State will only accept information about drivers who pose safety concerns from police officers. On the flip side, Illinois law mandates that doctors must inform their patients of their responsibilities to notify the Secretary of State of any medical conditions that may affect their driving abilities within 10 days of becoming aware of those conditions. Drivers who are required to report their medical conditions must also complete a Medical Report Form every time they renew their license.

Learn More About Illinois Driving Rules for Seniors: For more information, check out the Secretary of State website page that includes information for Illinois Senior Drivers.

Injuries Caused By Elderly Driver 

If you or a family member were injured by an elderly driver, please contact our offices for a free and confidential consultation to learn more about your legal rights and options. Peter Wachowski has over 30 years practicing law in the field of personal injury and criminal defense and he can help you evaluate your claim to determine the right course of action.

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