When to take the wheel
For many of us, driving is synonymous with freedom. We can remember the excitement of finally getting our driver’s license because we could stop relying on our parents to go where we wanted to go and do what we wanted to do. No one wants to admit that they are no longer capable of driving safely due to vision changes, hearing loss, mobility issues, dementia, drug side effects or other age-related decline. And no one wants to be the one to take away someone’s driving privilege. However, operating a vehicle is incredibly dangerous even with one’s full faculties. The risk of being injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash increases with age. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA), older drivers are more likely than younger drivers to be involved in car accidents and approximately 500 older Americans are injured every day in crashes.
As people age, perhaps developing dementia or other diseases, the mobility, reflexes, vision, and decision-making skills required to drive safely are affected. An unsafe driver is not only in danger or injuring or killing themselves while on the road, they also pose a serious threat to other drivers and pedestrians. And if your loved one is at fault for an accident, they can be sued, which would severely affect any long-term care plans that they might have made. The NHSTA recommends that family members look for some of these indicators that an elderly driver may no longer be safe behind the wheel:
- Drifting into other lanes
- Ignoring or missing stop signs and traffic signals
- Increased confusion while driving in traffic
- Braking or stopping abruptly without cause
- Difficulty seeing pedestrians, objects, and other vehicles
- Increasing levels of anxiety while driving
- Driving significantly slower than the posted speed or general speed of other vehicles
- Problems with back/neck flexibility and turning to see traffic/hazards around the car
- Getting lost or disoriented easily, even in familiar places
- Dents and scrapes on their car or on surrounding objects where they drive and park at home, such as fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs.
Driving assessments are available at DMV offices and if they fail the test, it is time for them to stop driving. In cases of dementia, the DMV only reexamines those with mild dementia–a mild or severe dementia diagnosis automatically renders a person unsafe to drive. If your loved one refuses to take the test, it is possible to report an unsafe driver to the DMV. You can mail or bring in to the DMV their DS 699 form and provide them with the person’s name (as shown on their driver’s license), their birth date, their driver’s license number (if known), their current address, and an explanation of what you observed to make you believe they are an unsafe driver. You can request that your name be kept confidential.
Don’t wait for an accident to occur. If you notice issues such as these, take action. It will protect your loved one’s physical well-being as well as their financial liability. Come in with your loved one for a free consultation if you are worried that their decision-making skills are declining, and/or you want to make sure their assets are protected.
All materials have been prepared for general information purposes only to permit you to learn more about our firm, our services and the experience of our attorneys. The information presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, and may be subject to change without notice.