It’s normal for driving abilities to change as the years pass. Unfortunately, some of those changes can mean that it’s not as safe as before for an elderly individual to be on the road. It’s important to recognize potential changes in driving ability that come with age and adjust expectations and habits accordingly.
Problematic senior driving, however, can be complicated to limit. In some cases, says speeding ticket attorney Zev Goldstein, elderly individuals also cite Fourteenth Amendment concerns with regards to their continued right to drive. There are several things that seniors and their families need to know about driving rights as they age.
How Aging Affects Driving
Aging can have a significant impact on the ability to drive safely. As the eyes deteriorate, it can be difficult to see where they’re going and what’s going on in the road. Hearing problems make it difficult to hear audio cues, from sirens to normal road noise that can alert drivers to problems. Elderly individuals may struggle with memory issues, from remembering how to reach their location to keeping the rules of the road at the forefront.
Slowed reflexes in older adults can lead to slowed reaction times, which can be a serious problem on the road. Pain or stiffness in the neck, arms, or legs can also make it difficult to react appropriately when situations arise that require fast reactions. Many seniors have trouble with the “nuts and bolts” of driving, making it difficult for them to stay on the road in spite of their desire to continue driving.
The medications necessary in order to retain a senior’s quality of life can also interfere with driving ability. Insomnia and lack of sleep can lead to drowsiness on the road. Medications and aging can also lead to divided attention deficits—a dangerous problem when driving. As seniors age, they experience increased numbers of close calls and citations.
Many elderly drivers cite the Fourteenth Amendment as their Constitutional guarantee of driving privileges. With its statement that no state may deprive any citizen of life, liberty, or property, the Fourteenth Amendment is often used as the grounds for insisting that seniors have the right to continue driving.
Age caps on licensing have been compared to mandatory retirement or to age discrimination in employment. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 guarantees seniors the right to work as long as they are able. Shouldn’t they also have the right to continue driving? This means that when states impose elderly driving restrictions, they are often challenged as a result.
The question, then, becomes this: Do children have a duty to keep their aging parents off the road? When is it time for children to step in and offer assistance or insist that their loved ones stop driving? When the driving behavior becomes unsafe enough to be a danger for other drivers, it may be time for families to step in.
Safety Concerns for Families
No one wants to be the one to take their parent’s keys away once and for all. It’s important, however, for families to understand their loved ones’ limitations. Keep an eye out for the warning signs of unsafe driving. If driving is starting to become a problem, it might be helpful to find the right car and any aids that your loved one needs in order to continue driving safely.
Consider discussing concerns respectfully together. In some cases, you may be able to reach a compromise: for example, your loved one might agree to drive only during daylight hours or during conditions when they feel safe.
People in every age group tend to view driving as a necessity, not a privilege. Many places in America don’t provide adequate public transportation options even for those who don’t wish to drive any longer. Elderly drivers have even more determination to retain their autonomy. Take away their licenses, they argue, and they no longer have the ability to manage their own affairs.
Many families, however, find themselves worrying about the safety of their loved ones. This is an issue that the nation as a whole must address, particularly with the current increase in life expectancy. Senior drivers expect to remain on the road for many years to come, making it their responsibility and that of their loved ones to ensure they have the tools necessary to do so safely.