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Should Your Elderly Relative Hand Over the Keys? – The Balance of Sensitivity v. Sensibility

As the baby boomer generation enters their senior years, the United States is seeing a surge in senior drivers. Many, if not most, of these individuals will continue driving safely well into their 70’s, or even longer. However, statistics show that the risk of accidents increases after age 65, and the risk of fatality increases after age 75. For this reason, there is mounting concern over the influx of older drivers and our nation’s lack of senior-driving regulations.

In Canada, physicians are required by law to report concerns about a patient’s ability to safely drive. Not only does the U.S. not have such a requirement, we barely have any safeguards in place to monitor senior driving. Some states have no specific driving requirements whatsoever for seniors. An 82 year old driver can renew his or her license for the standard four or five year timeframe (by mail) in certain states. In other states, such as California, the license renewal must be done in person after the age of 70, and it must include a written test and eye exam. However, these more stringent rules are the exception rather than the rule. Too often, unsafe senior driving is not discovered until an accident occurs.

With the government doing very little to regulate safe driving for seniors, much of the decision making process is left up to family members. Unfortunately, this responsibility often places a wedge between the senior and the family’s “designated spokesperson.” The reality is, giving up driving equates to giving up freedom and independence for many seniors. According to Bunni Dybnis, a geriatric care social worker in Los Angeles, the grandchild or child almost always has to intervene in order for a senior to give up the car keys. “I could probably say it’s 99.99 percent not the older adult saying, ‘I want to stop driving; help me,’ ” said Dybnis, who says she has seen many stubborn senior drivers. She encourages family members to look for changes in their loved one’s driving behavior. Also, regularly inspect the car. “You look at the car for dents; traffic tickets,” says Dybnis, “get a call from the hairdresser that they’ve been to every week, and all of a sudden they didn’t show up and you find out they got lost getting there.”

Would You Let Your Elderly Relative Drive Your Kids?

The biggest test, however, is whether you would let your loved one drive you or your children. According to Dybnis, “I see older children say, ‘My mother drives only to the hairdresser or market, and that’s fine, but I would never let my children drive with her, and I’m even afraid to drive with her,’ ” says Dybnis. “Gee, not willing to risk your own life or your children’s, but maybe somebody else and your parent’s? That’s a huge red flag.”

In order to make the conversation about driving easier, University of Colorado physician, Dr. Marian Betz, has developed something called an advance driving directive. Much like an advance healthcare directive, this written contract is put in place before safe driving becomes a concern. The older family member agrees to let a designated person (usually a child or grandchild) determine when it’s time to hand over the keys. Although an advance driving directive doesn’t guarantee your loved one will willingly walk away from the independence of driving, it may help the conversation go more smoothly. If you can say, “Look, dad. You asked me to tell you when it was time,” it may seem more like a joint decision than a punishment.

Altman & Altman, LLP – Motor Vehicle Accident Attorneys

If you’ve been injured in any type of motor vehicle accident, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you determine the best way to move forward. The MA Law Firm of Altman & Altman has been representing accident and injury victims for close to 50 years. Similarly, if you are concerned that the driving habits of an elderly parent, grandparent, or relative have become dangerous, we can help. Our dedicated, compassionate legal team understands how hard it can be to have this conversation with your loved one. We are happy to discuss different methods of approaching this uncomfortable topic, as well as what to do if your elderly relative has been involved in an accident.  Contact the Greater Boston Law Firm of Altman & Altman LLP for a free consultation.