Thinking About Hanging Up the Car Keys?

The number of older drivers on the road is increasing. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the percentage of drivers over 65 will likely increase from about 16% today to over 25% by 2025.But just because you are getting older, does not mean that you should hang up the car keys.

One of the things you should be doing however, is regularly assessing your driving. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has reported that at about age 70, fatal crashes per mile traveled increase and then peak at age 85 and older. More than half of those fatalities are the result of fragility according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

As you age, you not only go through both mental and physical changes that can hinder your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, you may be taking medications that affect how you drive. Some of these issues include:

  • Vision – Your vision deteriorates as you get older reducing your distance vision, which increases your reaction time.
  • Hearing – When you cannot hear sirens, horns and other road warnings, you could be driving into an unsafe situation.
  • Coordination – It becomes more difficult to control your vehicle when as coordination decreases.
  • Reflexes- Reaction times increase resulting in unsafe situations
  • Joint Pain and Limitations – Neck, shoulder and knee pain all detrimentally affect how you control and navigate your vehicle.
  • Brain Changes – Your ability to multi-task decreases thus increasing the difficulty in operating, monitoring and navigating your vehicle
  • Illnesses – Certain diseases or illnesses such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or dementia, make it difficult or impossible to operate a motor vehicle.
  • Medications – The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that 95% of seniors use medications that may impair driving.

Many seniors resist giving up their cars, says Gary J. Kennedy, MD, a geriatric psychiatrist, professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and director of the division of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. According to Dr. Kennedy, the decision to continue driving is not so much about certain illnesses or diseases, but about driving performance.

Some of the factors you should consider when making a decision that it is no longer safe for you to drive noted by Dr. Kennedy and others include:

  • Having trouble changing lanes
  • Having trouble staying in your lane
  • Braking to late or too early
  • Forgetting to use turn signals
  • Getting lost or having difficulty reaching your destination
  • Stopping or slowing down at green lights or at intersections where there are no stop or yield signs
  • Failing to stop at red lights or stop signs
  • Regularly driving ten or more miles per hour below the speed limit
  • Repeated near misses of a collision
  • Increase in traffic tickets
  • New dents and scratches appearing on the vehicle
  • Collisions with non-moving objects such as parked cars, mailboxes, fences and curbs
  • Collisions with other moving vehicles
  • Repeated incidents of road rage
  • Hearing from friends and family concerned about your driving
  • You are over age 85

I got the idea for this column when I was driving down the road a couple weeks ago. About a block in front of me at an intersection with no stop sign or traffic light, there was a vehicle with both its right turn signal blinking and its brake lights on. As I approached the vehicle, I had to slow down to a stop to avoid running into it. When my speedometer hit zero, I gave a little toot of my horn and the vehicle in front of me then proceeded to complete the right turn. I had to make a right turn also. As I followed the vehicle down the road, it went no faster than ten miles per hour below the speed limit.

When the vehicle approached another intersection without a stop sign or traffic signal, the brake lights went on again. The vehicle slowed down to about five miles per hour as it rolled through the intersection, before accelerating again. As luck would have it, we were both going to the same destination. As I entered the building, a woman then screamed at me from across the lobby that I was rude to honk my horn at her when she was making a turn.

I was assisting with the administration of an estate a few years ago when the personal representative of the estate was served with a personal injury lawsuit against the estate. The deceased, who was the father of the personal representative, apparently was in an auto accident before he died in which he alleged injured the driver of the other vehicle. None of the family was even aware he was in an accident, let alone caused an injury.

We got a copy of the police report and sure enough, the deceased was in an accident which he caused and for which he was given a ticket. The lawsuit was turned over to the deceased’s automobile insurance carrier, and luckily it was resolved for under policy limits. But it did delay the distribution of the estate for over a year.

In another estate, the family was unable to sell the vehicle of the deceased after taking it to numerous automobile dealers. Not a single dealer was interested in buying the vehicle. At the last dealer that declined to buy the vehicle, the family asked why the dealer was not interested in it. They were shown the CarFax report which disclosed multiple accidents about which the deceased never told the family. Even though the accidents were minor, no dealer wanted a vehicle with such an accident history. One of the beneficiaries ended up taking the vehicle.

What should you do if you have to hang up the car keys? I have known a number of seniors who have stopped driving but it didn’t slow them down. They found alternative transportation. Some lived in  senior apartments which had included transportation services. Others used the bus system and Dial-A-Ride. Other used family and friends. While still others used a combination of all of these

By Matthew M. Wallace, CPA, JD

Published edited February 19, 2017 in The Times Herald newspaper Port Huron, Michigan as: Is it time to hang up the car keys?

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