When is it Time to Hang Up the Keys?

With years of experience behind the wheel, senior drivers are among the safest on the road. However, skills and abilities required for safe driving — such as vision, memory, physical strength, reaction time, and flexibility — may decline with advanced age, which could make continuing to drive risky. Understandably, driving is not a privilege that most older Americans typically want to relinquish willingly. Still, safety must come first.

To decide whether driving is safe, loved ones and medical professionals need to keep the following three things in mind: life and health (older drivers are more likely to be seriously injured or killed in a car accident); the safety of others (including family passengers, pedestrians, and other drivers); and the potential financial liability of a serious accident that damages property and/or destroys lives.

As with any skill, it is important to honestly evaluate the ability of yourself and your loved ones  to remain on the road, particularly because it impacts your safety and the safety of others. In fact, almost anyone can benefit from a comprehensive driving evaluation conducted by a professional or an organization, such as the American Automobile Association (AAA). You should seriously consider a driving evaluation, if you are:

Verifying your confidence: If you feel your driving continues to be fine, you may appreciate having your opinion seconded by a professional with the background and experience to verify your confidence.

Feeling your age: If you are not seeing quite as well as you once did, experiencing slowed reaction time or a loss of flexibility, then you may benefit from an assessment and tips to keep your driving skills sharp.

Experiencing medical conditions: If you have one or more medical conditions – chronic diseases such as arthritis or diabetic neuropathy, or physical limitations that may lead to a loss of range of motion, flexibility, or strength in your arms or legs – you may also benefit from an evaluation. Moreover, an evaluation may provide you with a plan for rehabilitation, if appropriate.

Loss of vision: If you suffer from a loss of peripheral vision, depth perception, or other vision-related change, a driving evaluation would be most helpful.

Second opinions: If you have been told that you should stop driving, but you’re not sure that you agree, you could benefit by getting an opinion from a comprehensive driving evaluator. The evaluation is an extremely thorough process; you will get a recommendation that takes a complete picture of your driving skills and abilities into account. It will include an assessment of your current driving ability and your potential for improvement.

Driving again after stopping: If you would like to resume driving after a period of non-driving, you could benefit from getting a driving “checkup.” People sometimes find that, after a period of recovery time, some coaching and retraining can help prepare them to get back behind the wheel.

Changes in life circumstances: If a change of circumstances affects where or how much you drive, you may benefit from a driving evaluation to sharpen skills and build confidence. Some examples of changes include recently moving or changing family roles.

Learning you have Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia: If you have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, but are in the early stages, you may not need to stop driving immediately. A comprehensive evaluation can determine whether you can continue to drive safely for the time being – and can help you make plans for a time in the future when you will not be able to drive.

How to Evaluate Driving Ability

To evaluate your ability to drive safely, AAA offers resources from self-screening exercises to professionally administered assessments, including:

Self-Rating Tool: Drivers 65 Plus is a brochure that features a 15-question self-rating driving assessment exercise designed to help you examine your driving performance. After answering the questions, follow the instructions to calculate your score and get information about your driving performance. The driving assessment will list your strengths and weaknesses, along with suggestions for how to improve your driving.

Interactive Driving Evaluation: The AAA Roadwise Review interactive driving evaluation can help. The confidential self-evaluation program features a series of computer-based exercises that can be completed in 30 to 45 minutes and help you identify steps to reduce driving risks in key areas, including leg strength, mobility, flexibility, working memory, processing speed, and more.

Professional Assessment: To really understand your current driving abilities, consider getting an in-depth driving skills evaluation or clinical assessment by a trained professional. According to AAA, not only can this help you recognize and correct possible shortcomings, it also can result in a specialized drivers’ training plan to help you continue driving safely.

Taking State Laws into Account

On January 1, 2015, older drivers in Virginia began facing greater scrutiny with requirements that they apply for license renewals in person and that they renew their licenses more frequently. For instance, drivers over 75 years of age are no longer permitted to renew their license online or by mail. They now have to apply in person at one of the Commonwealth’s Department of Motor Vehicles offices. And, rather than renew every eight years, they are now required to renew every five years.

In Maryland and DC, drivers 70 and older must get a physician’s approval to renew their driver’s license. In fact, Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration has a medical advisory board that assesses medical fitness to drive in those who may be impaired. Drivers with certain conditions (including history of stroke, epilepsy, and autism) must be medically reviewed. Doctors, family,and concerned citizens can also request a review of drivers they fear are unfit to drive.

In total, 33 states and the District of Columbia have special provisions for mature drivers, including accelerated renewal frequency; restriction of online or mailed renewals; vision tests; road tests; or reduced or waived renewal fees. Visit the Governor’s Highway Safety Association Website for details on specific states.

Having the Talk

No one looks forward to that talk with an aging parent or other loved one about whether they need to hang up the keys. However, approaching that conversation a bit differently can make all the difference.

When you’re ready to talk, focus not on whether the driver should hang up the keys, but on mobility and the continued need for it. Talk about where the person needs to go, and when. Talk about alternatives to driving, such as mass transit or cabs or someone picking them up.

It is also important to have the talk years before the declines that affect driving set in. More help on broaching the subject is available in a downloadable booklet, “We Need to Talk,” developed by The Hartford.

For more resources, please see our blog post, “Stricter Laws for Senior Drivers.”

The Advance Driving Directive

What happens when you are the person who should no longer be driving and the time has come for you to hand over your keys? Which loved one would you want to broach this important subject with you? Now, as part of your incapacity planning documents, you can indicate who you would trust to help you if you could no longer drive safely. Our firm can help you draw up an Advance Driving Directive to name the person that you want to initiate the discussion with you about continued driving (or not) when the time is right. Or you can use this one provided by AAA.

Planning in advance for cessation of driving or other alternatives can help keep you and others safe on the road, so be sure to incorporate an Advance Driving Directive as part of your planning. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning or Incapacity Planning (or had your planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please call us:

Fairfax Elder Law Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-143
Rockville Elder Law Attorney: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law Attorney: 202-587-2797

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