Too Old to Drive? Aging, Illness, and Elderly Drivers

Are Aging Drivers Putting Others at Risk?

My 88-year old grandfather sadly gave up the keys to his car this fall, after his health began to decline following my grandmother's death in May. It was not an easy decision for him to make, and the family had to assist him in determining whether his age and health could put others at risk if he continued to drive.

Giving up driving meant my grandfather was losing one of the last significant signs of independence. He now must rely on public transportation, a shuttle from his assisted living facility, or relatives to take him where he needs to go. Grandpa was already depressed as a result of Granny's death, and now, he seems even more sad.

Was it worth it? Generally, the family generally agrees that it was.

Answers to the following questions vary depending on individual circumstances:

  • Are aging drivers putting others at risk?
  • At what point are you too old to drive?
  • Do your medical conditions, prescription medications, or other health risks cause you to be an unsafe driver?

One person may be able to continue driving safely into their 90s, while someone else will show signs of early Alzheimer's Disease in their 50s or 60s. Factors to consider in determining whether aging drivers are putting others at risk are detailed in the next section below. Ultimately, encouraging an aging driver to give up their car keys may be easier if that person is surrounded by a loving, supportive network that can help them maintain dignity and purpose.

If Grandpa has been driving since 1937, it may be time to give up the car keys
If Grandpa has been driving since 1937, it may be time to give up the car keys | Source

Warning Signs You May Be Too Old to Drive

There is no specific age at which the government requires you to give up your car keys, or refuses to renew your driver's license. According to the AARP, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the United States Automobile Association, the driver and/or their family, friends or medical providers should consider the following:

  • Hearing or vision problems (e.g., depth of perception issues, trouble reading signs or seeing lane lines or other markers, or declining night vision)
  • Delayed reaction times (e.g., feeling overwhelmed by signs, signals and pedestrians, feelings of being lost or confused, difficulty or fear in keeping up with traffic speeds, difficulty in judging gaps in traffic)
  • Declining physical fitness or flexibility (e.g. stiffness from arthritis that makes turning the head difficult or slow, trouble moving the foot from the gas to brake pedal, difficulty moving the steering wheel, inability to raise arms above shoulders)
  • Memory problems
  • Advancing chronic medical conditions
  • Conflicting medications

When Should the Elderly Stop Driving?

Statistics on Elderly Drivers: Snapshot of Oregon

Of drivers reported to have "severe and uncontrollable cognitive or functional impairments," in 2010 in Oregon, 60% were 70 or older, and 41% were over 80.

The Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles suspended licenses of 73% of at-risk drivers, reported through its mandatory reporting program in 2010. Less than 13% were able to pass driving tests to regain driving privileges.

Yet, of more than 2,800 drivers reported through the voluntary at-risk program in 2010, 82% were able to retain their driver's license by passing tests or getting a doctor's clearance to continue driving.

The Oregon DMV offers a Quit Driving Identification Card for aging drivers who are giving up the privilege, but wish to retain a photo ID card to use in place of a driver's license. The agency estimates that it issues about 1,500 of these cards annually, 20% of which are to people with medical-based suspensions, and the remaining 80% who elect to give up driving due to aging issues.

How Can Elderly People Retain Driving Privileges?

The presence of some of aging driver warning signs may not necessarily require surrendering the keys to the car, if certain additional safety measures are employed, such as improving positioning of mirrors or ensuring that the driver does not follow other vehicles too closely. There are also programs such as the AARP Driver Safety Program that may be offered in your community - or you can attend online - that help seniors brush up on their driving skills. Enrollment may even result in reduced insurance rates.

Some people voluntarily restrict the times and/or conditions in which they drive (daylight hours, no inclement weather) to feel more safe behind the wheel. Adequate, restful sleep will help, as will regular eye and hearing examinations. Avoiding the use of cell phones - even with hands-free devices - or any consumption of alcohol are advisable practices, as well. Generally speaking, defensive driving practices may help extend the years an aging driver may retain his or her privileges.

If you or a loved one shows any warning signs of being too old to drive, or generally is anxious/uncomfortable about driving, you should consult a medical professional. A doctor can evaluate your physical condition, take into account any medications you may be taking, and advise whether they believe it is safe to continue getting behind the wheel. If the Department of Motor Vehicles has received a report concerning the safety of your driving and suspended or revoked your license, a medical examination may clear you for renewed driving privileges.

Elderly Driver Going the Wrong Way

Medical Conditions Can Pose Risks for Drivers and the Public

While I am only in my 40s, writing this hub and considering the sacrifice my grandfather made to give up his independence along with his car keys was very eye-opening. I am a Type 1, insulin-dependent diabetic. There are times when I have been driving and have gotten confused as to where I was, or where I was going, due to low blood sugar. I have also drifted within my driving lane, bumped up on a curb, and pulled over to call for help (I carry a card in my wallet that states, "I am not intoxicated: I am a diabetic". My condition is chronic and there is no cure, however, it is on very rare occasions that my sugar/insulin levels are not stable. Yet, for this reason, commercial airline pilots are not allowed to fly if they become insulin dependent diabetics.

It goes without saying that motor vehicles are heavy, powerful and potentially lethal. Regardless of age, anyone that experiences any of the warning signs set forth above should seriously consider whether it is safe to get behind the wheel. You may be putting other drivers, pedestrians, yourself and anyone else in your vehicle at risk of serious harm if age or medical conditions or prescriptions impair your mental or physical abilities.

As for my grandfather, we know that he would feel terrible if he got into a car accident simply because he preferred to deny his declining physical abilities than to ask for a bit more help from relatives and friends to drive him around. But, as it is with any loss, it is natural for him and others to grieve the loss of independence associated with giving up driving privileges.

Again, if you have questions regarding your ability to continue safely driving due to age or medical conditions, please see your doctor or medical professional. They may also be able to refer you to a counselor or support group to help with feelings of loss and grief.

Should the Abilities of Elderly Drivers be Tested?

© 2012 Stephanie Hicks

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Comments 31 comments

tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 4 years ago from USA

Great topic for a hub! I think once a person gets to a certain age, they need to be physically tested. I seen an 86 year old man driving on icy roads with only a small portion of his window cleaned off. The rest of the windshield was covered in a foot of snow. You know there was no way he could see where he was going. It was amazing that no one was in an accident from it. Thanks for sharing this important information.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks tipoague,

It is a difficult decision for drivers or their friends/families to make - putting safety above the desire for continued independence. I am with you on the need for physical testing of elderly drivers. The additional governmental cost is worth the dollars saved in accidents and even deaths. Best to you, Steph


rorshak sobchak 4 years ago

I think that there could be two improvements for driving wreck decreases.

1. Raise the age limit for driving.

2. Decrease the elderly driving limit.

All of my wrecks in my newspaper are always young drivers. Maybe they need some kind of extra training. Even an extra test or two. I feel this is a small trade for saving a life.

I agree with your Hub. I have seen so many elderly drivers on the wrong side of the road. Driving with their lights off. Pulling out in front of oncoming traffic. It is scary...

Great job on your Hub. Voted up!


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

Super hub. My godfather's wife is 80 and lucky for her sound of wind and limb and clear minded she can still drive herself around especially to the supermarket. My godfather is 90 and he knows his driving days are over even though he's in good health.


writer20 profile image

writer20 4 years ago from Southern Nevada

I know it depends on how our elder people are. Here in Las Vegas a 78 lady driving sped through a cross walk were three children were crossing one landed on the hood and was carry another 50 yards. This child didn't survive the other two are doing well.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Rorshak, Gypsy Rose and writer20,

When I was in high school, I remember riding in the car with my grandmother. She drove so slowly (I think because she was nervous/scared) that it created dangerous driving conditions with people trying to pass her and getting angry at her poor driving skills. Sadly, there are many accidents that occur due to poor driving skills, no matter the age. But Rorshak is right that too young and too old appear to be the cause of many serious driving accidents.

If the driver him or herself cannot acknowledge that it is unsafe for them to continue driving then it is up to family/friends, medical professionals and - hopefully one day - the licensing agencies to re-test and certify safe drivers. Thanks for all your comments. Best, Steph


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom

Safety comes first and I think it would be a good idea for everyone to take a driving test when they reach their 70's but it must be awful to hand in your keys and lose your independence.

thank you for sharing a great hub and voted up.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks MM - I have long believed that a test is necessary for aging drivers just because they may not even realize declining capabilities. And yes, turning in your keys is heartbreaking (to witness, and I'm sure to experience). Thanks for the comment - all the best, Steph


Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Steph, Great article! Here in Ontario when a driver turns 80 they are required to renew their licence every 2 years. They must take a vision test as well as a written test and participate in a group education session. I think that maybe this should be done all over. I remember when my Dad lost his licence due to medical reasons. He was so heartbroken.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Susan,

It is such a delicate situation - testing elderly drivers to ensure their safety on the road and having to take away driving privileges at times. I am sure your father was heartbroken to lose his license. Glad to hear that Ontario is requiring these steps, however. Best, Steph


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 4 years ago from Southern California, USA

Being a pedestrian is far more liberating than being a driver, and I speak from lifelong experience. On my three mile walks to work I do not have to worry about the gas tank, and my gym bill is non-existent since I walk. Honestly, I think a lot of younger drivers are becoming worse these days because they are playing with iphones when pedestrians have the walking light. I have had to point out the bad maneuvers to several able body and agile drivers.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 4 years ago from Southern California, USA

It is just not accurate to say independence = driving in life. I know this hub is about older drivers feeling sad because they lose their license, but I also think there is a bit of discrimination against people who choose not to drive. I am a highly liberated woman, and I have seen parts of the country without a license. There is no shame in taking public transportation, and I think if our culture stopped equating independence with a set of car keys - maybe some of the stigma people have about losing their license, for any reason, would not occur.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Sweetie Pie, you are right that is people are used to taking public transportation, losing the ability to drive with age would not feel like a loss of independence. But those older drivers who are unfamiliar with and uncomfortable using buses or subways may feel even more trapped and sad with losing their preferred method of transportation. Thanks for adding to the discussion! Steph


oceansnsunsets profile image

oceansnsunsets 4 years ago from The Midwest, USA

Hi Steph, this is an excellent hub on a sometimes very difficult topic for aging people. My heart goes out to them as they lose such a privilege as driving around on their own.

Sorry to hear about your Grandmother's death, and how hard that was for your Grandfather. My guess and from what I have seen, is that will get better over time. I sometimes think that the older generation is much stronger and braver than we give them credit for. I mean in in their character, as they are in a very tough time of life depending on what is going on. Voted up, useful, and awesome.

Great hub, thanks for sharing it.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks oceansnsunsets,

I hear you - and I cannot imagine what it may be like 20 years from now when my parents can no longer drive. Appreciate your comment and care. All the best, Steph


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK

This is a very interesting, if sad, hub. I am sorry your grandfather is so sad. My father is around the same age as your grandfather and stopped driving last year due to cataracts. My mother never learned to drive, and they live on a sparsely populated island, so it certainly restricts them. They still have the car though, as my father hasn’t given up hope of having the cataracts removed. Meantime, my mother sees the silver lining as she says it’s cheaper to occasionally get taxis than to run a car!

Thanks for this thought provoking hub.


Sharyn's Slant profile image

Sharyn's Slant 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

Hi Steph,

This is an excellent subject for a hub! I take care of a 90-year old elderly man. Two years ago, he had to give up his license. First, he got pulled over by the police after swerving left of center. They thought he was drunk, but he wasn't. His license was taken away. It was possible that a doctor could have reinstated his license, but the family kept telling him that he lost his license because of the ticket he got and can no longer drive. It was heartbreaking to watch him at first. He was so used to jumping in and going. But it really did become a safety issue. Once the family actually moved the vehicle out of his yard, and he could no longer see it, eventually he stopped thinking about it. Thanks for bringing this issue to light!

Sharyn


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Melovy,

I am glad that your parents have each other, even though they cannot drive any longer. Your mom sounds like she has a great attitude. Just sit back and enjoy the ride, right? Thanks so much for your comment. Best, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Sharyn,

That story makes me very sad! I'd love to see more education on both sides - for the elderly drivers, to inform them how to keep their licenses, and for the general public to show some respect and patience. I would guess that some of the accidents that are blamed on older drivers are caused by others that are in a hurry and make rash decisions. So appreciate your comment. Cheers, Steph


morgantown 4 years ago

I agree 100% It sucks living in a middle class suburb. Too mucth traffic. And being disrespectful ultimately leads to losses. Rudeness is not tolerated to an extent. Understood.


Jimijams profile image

Jimijams 4 years ago

While there are dangerous drivers everywhere, I don't believe that all elderly drivers should give up their license at a certain age. But I do believe that impaired driving should not be permitted, as in uncorrected bad eyesight or hearing problems that could hinder a persons driving abilities.

That being said, I couldn't imagine how crappy I would feel handing over my key's because I am un able to drive. Driving is apart of my life, I'm sure many other's feel the same way. Even more so elderly people who have been driving for so many years.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Jimijams, yes - I agree that it should not be a blanket prohibition or restriction at a certain age, but that testing should be required to ensure that drivers can safely operate vehicles. thanks for the comment! Steph


Cagsil profile image

Cagsil 4 years ago from USA or America

Very well stated article Steph. Seriously, that was excellent. Voted up! :)


onegreenparachute profile image

onegreenparachute 4 years ago from Greenwood, B.C., Canada

Wow! Fantastic Hub. Loads of information and very well written and researched. Voted up and useful.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Cagsil - I appreciate your comment. It is an issue that has hit close to home for me, watching my grandfather give up his freedom with his car keys. Best, steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you greenparachute - much appreciated! Steph


Kat07 profile image

Kat07 4 years ago from Tampa

Great hub. So true, all of it. In my line of work, we detect early stages of dementia that we realize have gone unnoticed by doctors and family members and then we say to ourselves, "And this person is out there driving." It makes you want to stay at home sometimes. :)


sarvamitra 4 years ago

wow ! nICE HUB.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Kat,

Boy, that must be a particularly hard part of your job! I witnessed a classmate at a workout session the other day get confused and disoriented afterward. She is in her late 60s/early 70s. Fortunately, some of us picked up on her confusion and called her husband to come and get her (and take her to the doctor). We could not imagine if she had been out driving! Be careful and safe, Steph


F. Cabral 3 years ago

The streets become more dangerous when seniors with poor eyesight and slow reaction times get behind the wheel.


lrc7815 profile image

lrc7815 3 years ago from Central Virginia

Steph, this is such an important topic. Been there, done that. We just stopped my 84 years old Dad from driving. He has Alzheimers. It was the hardest thing I've ever done but it may also be one of the most important. We did not want him to spend his last days grieving or feeling guilty because he made a mistake that cost someone their life. Kudos to you for writing it. I hope your grandfather has made the adjustment.

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