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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


When is it time to quit?

People of any age can be horrible drivers, but advanced age often provides compelling reasons for elderly drivers to quit.  Though many 16 to 65 year olds should surrender their licenses, and some are court-ordered to do so, the 65-plus crowd gets more scrutiny.

The younger drivers have a higher vehicle death rate than the older group, but that’s not necessarily the result of worse youth driving or better elderly driving.  For one thing, health maladies such as cancer and heart failure begin to prey upon the elderly, overtaking vehicle accidents in cause-of-death ranking.  Also, older drivers tend to avoid exposing themselves to riskier driving times during night, foul weather and holidays.  Actual crash rates begin to increase for drivers reaching their late 60s, and do so even more rapidly for drivers over age 75.

There is scientific proof that as we age, deterioration of night vision and reflexes is inevitable; those factors alone affect the abilities of the older driving group.  When coupled with other health afflictions like arthritis or dementia, many drivers and their families must face the difficult prospect of curbing driving privileges.

There are, of course, many healthy older drivers whose experience and attention make up for their minor shortcomings (hearing or reflexes).  These drivers may curtail their night driving, for example, stay off of the freeways, and still operate their vehicles very well in the remaining times, places and conditions.

For others, though, driving degradation may reach the point when their own and others’ lives may be in peril from their continued motor vehicle operation anywhere. 

So, what are some indicators that a family should intervene?  One independent entity, the Independent Transportation Network of America, suggests a few early warnings:   scrapes on the sides of the vehicle; confusing the gas pedal for the brake pedal; stopping at a green light; or getting lost while driving in a familiar neighborhood.  Any of these circumstances can be precursors to disaster and signs of early-onset dementia.

The Automobile Association of America (Triple A or AAA) has a Website devoted to the topic of senior driving (, where one can take a 15-question self-regulating test to determine driver readiness.  There, questions range from “soft” ones like, “I signal and check to the rear when I change lanes.” to “hard” ones like, “How many traffic tickets, warnings, or ‘discussions’ with law enforcement officers have you had in the past two years?” or “How many collisions (major or minor) have you had during the past two years?”

That same test also asks the taker to admit if, “My children, other family members or friends have expressed concern about my driving ability.” Drivers in question can’t help but take it personally, but concern from family members is generally well-intentioned.

And it is normally the family members who must take the lead.  Whereas some drivers may see their diminishing confidence and increasing close calls as reasons to give up driving on their own, most wish to hang on to the freedom they gained when attaining their licenses in the first place.  It’s agreeably difficult to discard a half-century-old habit.

Besides family, doctors acting in concert with families regularly play vital roles in curtailing or helping to end driving privileges.  When health issues are a genuine concern, the impartiality and authority of a doctor’s suggestion will often hold more influence with the affected driver.

Age should never be used as the sole indicator of driving ability.  In fact, drivers 65 and older represent a wide range of abilities, and no individual should have his or her driving privileges determined strictly based upon age.  Nevertheless, it is common for some of the needed skills for safe driving — vision, reflexes, flexibility, and hearing — to begin to deteriorate as we age. 

If you are beginning to experience some of these natural age-related changes, you can adjust your driving habits to keep driving safely.  After all, experience is a vital element of safe driving, and age actually increases experience.  It’s important to recognize your limitations for driving at any age, but special awareness is paramount for the older group.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at