The Federal Highway Administration reports that drivers age 70 and older experience more motor vehicle fatalities than any other driving group, with the exception of drivers under age 20. Aging affects each of us differently and when chronic illnesses are also present; there can be a decline in physical and cognitive abilities. While many seniors learn to compensate successfully for any cognitive or functional limitations, sometimes it does become necessary to let someone else do the driving.

Remember that medications can sometimes have a negative impact on driving ability at any age. A change in vision will also present challenges for driver safety.

Senior Driver Safety

First, take an assessment of the senior’s driving capability and begin thinking of alternate transportation resources to introduce to them at the same time you have the discussion to transfer the keys. You may want to begin with limiting night-time driving as a first step, as this will give the senior a chance to learn how to plan ahead when needing someone else to assist with transportation. Once they are accustomed to not driving at night and realize they still have access to alternate transportation, you can more easily adapt this to daytime driving too.

Safe Driving Checklist For Seniors

  • Vision – Is the senior able to pass a vision test? (Cataracts, Glaucoma and Macular Degeneration can all impact vision quality).
  • Are there any unexplained dents in the paint of the car or the garage?
  • Does the senior allow others to ride in the car with them when they are driving?
  • Does the senior seem nervous or extra anxious when driving?
  • Does the senior take alternate routes to avoid major highways?
  • Does the senior fail to stop at red lights or stop signs?
  • Are speed limits obeyed (Not driving too slow or too fast)?
  • Have neighbors or others who see the senior driving (anyone who also attends a regular event they may drive to) observed anything unsafe?

If you feel that it is unsafe for the senior to continue to drive, and you feel they will not be accepting of this, it may be best to first discuss this with their physician. The doctor can do a test of their vision, hearing, and reflexes and begin the conversation about how declined functionalities may negatively impact their ability to drive safely.

Although this is a tough decision to make, at the same time no one wants to be responsible for an accident that may have been preventable. The high rate of driving fatalities involving seniors includes incidents of pedestrians who are hit by senior drivers.

The tragic 2003 Santa Monica farmer’s market accident left 10 people dead and 63 injured after George Weller, age 86 at the time, accidentally accelerated on the gas pedal, instead of the brake pedal. He, unfortunately, had previous accidents and there were reports that neighbors and others had witnessed unsafe driving by him.

As you discuss the need for a change in driving with the senior, if you feel they are resistant, share with them your concern for other’s safety, as well as their own safety. You may be able to ask their physician to write a letter stating it is unsafe for them to drive if they are taking certain medications or suffering from memory loss.

You may contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles to request the license be revoked. Each state has different requirements for senior drivers – it may be possible that the senior will not be able to pass their license renewal test anyway. Check the criteria for your state to find out how they might be able to help you terminate the driver’s license.