APRIL 1, 2013 VOLUME 20 NUMBER 13
Driving. It’s an issue for seniors. And their families.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, drivers over age 75 are at particular risk for fatal accidents, and that risk continues to grow as those older drivers age. The CDC is candid: it’s hard to tell how much of that is related to increased frailty and susceptibility to injury, and how much is the result of worsening vision and slower reaction times. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter: fatality rates are much higher for older drivers (on a per-mile-driven basis) than even for brand-new drivers under age 20.
When is it time to stop driving, and who is best able to tell the time has arrived? Or are those even the right questions to be asking? If you have an older family member, or you are aging yourself (yes, we know that that includes every reader), then you should be concerned about the issue. Fortunately, there is some help available.
First, let’s wrestle with what may be the biggest problems in encouraging a senior to drive less, or to stop driving: there is plenty of emotion and psychology involved, and there are too-few alternatives. It is seldom good enough to just insist on your parent or spouse giving up the car keys. You need to consider the problem from their perspective.
In our modern American culture, we tend to identify with our automobiles. I may favor a flashy, brightly-colored muscle car; you may prefer a solid, responsible and reliable set of wheels. My brother, on the other hand, might be a nut about saving gas. All three of us are making statements about our interests, preferences and personalities when we pick out a car. There is little else which says so much about us and simultaneously provides so much freedom.
So if you think I ought to stop driving, I am going to be very resistant. At root, my objections might be very practical — it’s too hard to get errands done, I don’t want to rely on anyone else, I’m not really driving that much any more anyway — but those objections will be more forceful because you are getting too close to my sense of self.
Before you tackle restricting the driving of an aging family member, it would be wise to review the arguments, prepare some strategies, and figure out what has worked for others. The good news: there are several good resources to help you with that project.
Let’s start with the AARP, which has done extensive work on driver safety and education. The AARP’s focus on aging drivers is unsurprising, but you may be surprised at how well they have analyzed the issue and how much material is available. Start with the online seminar called “We Need to Talk.” It will take about an hour (a little more if you stop along the way to scratch out questions or approaches, or if you re-review some sections). You may be surprised at how well it helps prepare you for your talk with a family member about your concerns.
Maybe what you really want is a review of driving skills, or a refresher course with emphasis on abilities that change over time. The AARP has some help there, too — it offers a link to driver safety courses for seniors. A quick check as we wrote this found three courses within a few miles of the Fleming & Curti, PLC, offices scheduled in the next month. Plus there’s an online version of the course, too.
Maybe you’re past this point with your family member. Can you disable the vehicle, force a review of their driving ability, or take stronger action? Yes, but first look at two publications produced by AARP, MIT’s AgeLab and The Hartford Insurance Company. One, “We Need to Talk,” is the basis for the AARP seminar described above. You can also order printed copies if you want to leave one lying around, or share with siblings or other family members. Copies are free, and you’ll get them in the mail in just a couple of days. While you’re online, you might also download or order “At the Crossroads,” another excellent resource offered by the same consortium.
Arizona drivers’ licenses are valid until age 65 without retesting (you do have to have your picture taken at least every twelve years or so). After 65 a driver has to take a vision test at least every five years, but there is no automatic retest for driving ability.
There is, however, one way to get a family member retested: any one who is concerned about driving ability can request a review for a family member, neighbor, patient or client (many of the requests are filed by doctors and other medical and social service professionals). You can initiate a review by filing a form 96-0469 with the Motor Vehicle Division; after looking at your description, MVD may require a doctor’s report and/or a driving test.
Are you worried about the possibility that you might cause this kind of concern, and force your own children to take similar steps? We have one suggestion for you to head off a similar scenario for your own future: talk to your family, and maybe even consider signing an agreement with your family about driving. You can give someone — perhaps the same person you name as agent on a health care power of attorney, perhaps someone else — instructions to tell you when you need to stop driving, and the power to take steps to stop you from putting yourself and others at risk.
The reality: such an agreement probably has no legal validity. But it could give your chosen family member the moral and psychological power they need to tackle a very difficult problem when you are unable to make the decision for yourself. At Fleming & Curti, PLC, we include such a power in most of our health care powers of attorney; if you would like to sign an agreement on your own, there’s one in the back of the “At the Crossroads” booklet described above. There is also a separate copy of such an agreement on The Hartford’s website; you can download it, review it and sign it on your own. But we really favor talking with your family about it.
A final thought: at least once a week or so, we have a client tell us “I’ll be the first to know when I need help.” Sadly, that has not been borne out by our experience at all.