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Aging News & Information

Decision for Senior Citizen to Stop Driving Impacts Mental State, Well-Being

‘Aging is a process where so many things are lost. Part of what seniors try to hold onto is their independence.’

May 1, 2012 - If a senior citizen’s driving raises concerns, approach the matter compassionately to preserve the person’s dignity and keep them and others safe, recommends a geriatric specialist with the Harris County (Tx) Hospital District. The decision to end driving for a senior can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, affecting the person’s mental state and overall well-being.

Driving safety is an important obligation for all drivers but for many older people disease or advanced age will eventually negatively affect their driving abilities.

 “Aging is a process where so many things are lost. Part of what seniors try to hold onto is their independence - the independence to make decisions about their health, their future and their driving. To them, driving is more than a way to get from one place to another,” says Dr. Kavon Young, of the Silver Seniors Clinics run by the Houston-area hospital district.


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Losing the ability to drive can be a big blow to self-esteem to a senior and could trigger depression, anxiety and loneliness. In some cases, seniors may feel isolated and not want to keep up with their medical care, she adds.

Seniors are one of the fastest growing segments of America’s population. Making a decision to limit or restrict driving should not be taken lightly.

“A lot of factors and family participation go into discussing driving with seniors because the goal is maintain their dignity in the process. These are adults and should be treated as such,” says Young, also an assistant professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) at Houston.

If worried about the ability of a loved one to drive safely, the ideal situation is to talk to them early about driving and safety concerns. Young suggests being open and honest to help when decisions like driving are determined. While most seniors will limit their driving, if they don’t feel safe, some may not be aware of deficits in vision or memory and will not voluntarily limit their driving.

Signs that driving could be an issue include:

   • Longer drive times for short distances
   • Not obeying traffic signs
   • Forgetting destinations or locations
   • Hitting curbs
   • Being angry or anxious when driving

Driving a vehicle requires full use of senses like hearing and sight, as well as good muscle coordination of hands and feet. Any impairment like tremors, a loss of hearing or memory impairment could prove to be dangerous for the individual and others on the road.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, a total of 4,139 people ages 70 and older died in motor vehicle crashes in 2010, representing a 4 percent increase from the previous year.

However, the same report shows a 42 percent decrease in fatalities per capita among older people since 1975.

“Start the discussion early and agree that you won’t make a decision based on one particular event. Having this agreement will take the pressure off the senior. Sometimes, family members or caregivers get upset and decide to stop all driving privileges, which can be traumatic for the senior,” Young says.

Tips for easing driving privileges for seniors include:
   • Limit drives to short distances
   • Drive only to familiar places
   • Avoid driving at night
   • Avoid driving during bad weather
   • Build a chauffeur list with family, friends or church members

Help from Occupational Therapy Driving Rehabilitation Assocation

To find a driver evaluation program to determine driving ability for a senior in your area, visit the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Why Choose an Occupational Therapy Driving Rehabilitation Specialist

The AOTA says:

“Driving is a very complex task. Understanding all of the factors that make it possible to drive safely and that may present barriers to a driver continuing to drive safely requires specialized training.

“Occupational therapists with such specialized training in driver rehabilitation are able to identify not only a driver's strengths but also the physical, visual, and cognitive challenges the individual faces. As a result, occupational therapists can evaluate an individual's overall ability to operate a vehicle safely and, if needed, recommend ways to limit risks.

“Not all driver rehabilitation specialists are occupational therapists. But occupational therapists have the extensive training and knowledge needed to recognize the impact of medical conditions and the aging process on driving performance. They use skill-building, behavioral, and adaptive approaches to keeping a person mobile in his or her community, even if he or she must limit or stop driving.

“Driver Rehabilitation Services may be available in some areas and not in others. If you cannot find a driver rehabilitation specialist in the data base in your area, contact your local rehabilitation hospital's occupational therapy department for help in locating a driver rehabilitation program. AOTA is constantly working to expand and update the driver rehabilitation specialist data base.”

Help from American Automobile Association

To help manage the effects of aging on driving ability, AAA offers the following resources for older drivers:

   ● - This website provides expert advice about how aging affects ones ability to drive safely. Users also will find a step-by-step guide on how to begin a conversation with an older driver about the need to work together on an action plan for the transition from driver to pas­senger. Additionally, users will find a variety of tools and resources, from educational brochures and driver improvement courses, to skills assessment tools and free community-based programs.

   ● How to Help an Older Driver - This booklet from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety provides a helpful framework as you search together to learn how to preserve your loved one's personal freedom and mobility, while ensuring their safety and the safety of other road users.

   ● AAA Roadwise Review is a computer-based self-screening tool designed to assess a driver's functional abilities important to safe driving.

   ● CarFit and AAA's Smart Features for Mature Drivers help to enhance seniors' comfort and safety while driving.

   ● Safe Driving for Mature Operators classroom and online courses provide driver training to help address the changes caused by aging and how a driver may compensate.

As North America's largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA says it provides more than 52 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at

More Links to Archived Reports on Senior Citizens and Driving

Families Should Check Driving Ability of Senior Citizens During Family Holidays

Consumer Reports Health offers tips for determining when to take the keys away from an older driver - Dec. 7, 2010

Seniors Account for Just 3 Percent of $99 Billion Annual Cost of Motor Vehicle Crashes

CDC Study Finds Cost amounts to nearly $500 for each U.S. licensed driver in one year - Aug. 28, 2010

Elderly Drivers Do Not Lose the Ability to Detect Hazards, More Aware Than Youngest

However, older drivers claim other road users were responsible for putting them at risk and rarely considered themselves as responsible for hazardous events

May 26, 2010

AMA Issues Older Driver Safety Guide to Help Slow Leading Cause of Injury Deaths in Seniors

Per mile driven, fatality rate for drivers 85+ is nine times higher than for drivers 25 to 69

March 17, 2010

Senior Citizen Drivers Setting New Records – For Safe Driving, Fewer Fatal Crashes

Despite growing numbers, fewer older drivers died in crashes and fewer were involved in fatal collisions

Jan. 13, 2009

Florida Vision Test of Elderly Drivers Appears to Reduce Deaths, But No One Knows How

Importance of driving to older adults suggests that isolating the true mechanism responsible for the decline is in fact important

Nov. 10, 2008

Smart Features for Mature Drivers Introduced by AAA at NY Auto Show

Research finds features to improve safety, comfort of senior citizens – booming driver market: AAA starts senior driver Web page

March 25, 2008

Senior Citizens Not As Dangerous Behind the Wheel as Youngest Drivers

Not much more likely to cause auto accidents than baby boomers

July 19, 2007

Aging Committee Leaders Release Older Driver Report Calling for States to Share Information

Older drivers more likely than other age groups to suffer injuries or die in car crashes

April 19, 2007

Study Explores Why Older Drivers Have So Many Wrecks at Intersections?

Protected left turn arrows and roundabouts may help the oldest drivers

March 19, 2007

Elderly Drivers Increasingly More Likely to Die in Auto Accidents

Study looks at age, gender as major factors in severity of accident injuries

January 5, 2007

Senior Citizens Driving with Dementia Are Targets of Training for Physicians

Academy of Neurology says seniors with mild dementia should stop driving

December 28, 2006

Senior Citizens Who Give Up Driving may take Express Lane to Nursing Home

'Taking the keys has serious consequences for older drivers'

July 19, 2006

Senior Citizens By Far the Least Likely to Talk on Cell Phone While Driving

Older people are most likely to think it dangerous and least likely to do it

June 9, 2006

Senior Citizen Drivers: Are They Menace? Should Licensing Laws Be Tougher?

Safety advocates want tougher licensing for seniors and special vehicles

June 16, 2005

Study Implying Young With Cell Phones Drive as Dangerously As Elderly Ignores Facts

By Tucker Sutherland, editor - Feb. 4, 2005

New Guide Available Online to Those Concerned About an Aging Driver

July 6, 2004

Safety for Older Drivers is Goal of New Website

June 26, 2004


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