Yes, Another Elder Online Dating Post – Part 3 (Unplanned)
Can You Trust Online Health Information?

Driving While Old

Whenever there is an auto accident involving an elder driver, there are hysterical calls to snatch licenses from people when they turn 65.

What makes me laugh (ruefully) is that U.S. elected officials are eager to raise retirement age for Social Security and eligibility for Medicare because, they say, we are healthier in old age than past generations so we should work longer. But apparently, for some of them, that doesn't mean we are healthy enough to drive.

Not necessarily, say the people who track driving statistics for a living at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency of the Department of Transportation. They tell us health matters more than age.

And that tells me that unlike elected representatives, the NHTSA is doing its homework and knows that people manifest negative signs of ageing at dramatically different rates. In some cases, a 50-year-old is too debilitated to drive; in others, a 90-year-old is capable; with all the variations in between.

Here are some recent statistics about teen drivers and elder drivers from the Insurance Information Institute website. First, teens:

”Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 15- to 20-year olds, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

“In 2012, 1,875 drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 died in motor vehicle crashes and an additional 184,000 young drivers were injured, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.”

And here are some similar numbers for elder drivers from the same source:

”In 2011, there were 35 million licensed drivers age 65 and over according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“5,560 people age 65 and older were killed and 214,000 were injured in traffic crashes in 2012.

“In 2012 drivers age 65 and older accounted for 17 percent of all traffic fatalities.

Of course, what's missing from these numbers is information on who is at fault for the accidents and their ages.

Even so, a study reported by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety a year ago indicates that driving is becoming safer in all age groups:

”At the beginning of the study period, drivers 80 and older had by far the highest fatal crash rate, at nearly twice the rate of drivers ages 35-54 and 70-74. By 2012, the fatal crash involvement rate for drivers 80 and older improved to 1.4 times the rate of the other two age groups.

"'Older drivers are not only less likely to crash in recent years, they also are sharing in the benefits of newer and safer vehicles. It also helps that older people in general are more fit than in years past, with better access to emergency services and health care,' McCartt says.”

Also, elder drivers tend to self-police their capabilities which younger people may not. Here is a chart showing conditions under which men and women age 65 and older avoid driving:


I've been avoiding night driving since I first got my license at age 16. I never have been able to drive confidently with car lights from the opposite direction blinding me. And nowadays, I'm not fond if highways at any time of day.

None of this means that one day, some of us won't need to turn in our car keys for our own safety and that of everyone else. And yes, it is frightening to contemplate losing the independence cars provide especially for those of us who do not live in cities with good public transportation.

In the past when I've written about elders and driving, the reasons we might have difficulties have been vague – reaction times slow, vision fades, etc., but nothing specific.

Recently, however, I ran across some short videos from the NHTSA about how specific health conditions can affect driving quality. Here is the general overview video:

As I said at the top, it is one's health that matters more in regard to driving than age. Here are links to other short videos with information about driving and specific medical conditions most commonly seen in elders.

Alzheimer's disease
Parkinson's disease
Sleep Apnea
Vision Disorders
Severe Arthritis

In addition to these links and the others above, the National Institutes of Health website has a large, useful section on elder driving. And the Centers for Disease Control has a good fact sheet about elder drivers.

Not every old person will need to stop driving but I believe we all have a responsibility to monitor ourselves as the years go by and make plans for alternatives to driving before they become critical.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: Packing It In at 75


I dread the idea of not being able to drive because there are not many public transportation opportunities where I live. I also don't have kids to depend on to get me to places.

I do the self-monitoring already. I avoid night driving, left hand turns, rush hour and downtown streets.

My drivers license expired while I was in hospital in 2011. When I left and came to the ALF I'm now in I started to think about driving again. I decided not to renew my license. I just don't feel comfortable doing so. My eyesight is not what it used to be and I'm deaf in one ear and I know my reflexes have slowed too. In other words, I am not 100%, although the State of NY most likely would let me drive I don't think I'm safe. It's up to the individual (of any age) to take a serious look at their capacity to safely operate a motor vehicle. I know that I would not like to be behind a guy like me in a rainstorm, at night on the interstate.

After I had a minor accident that I was responsible for I voluntarily quit driving. I knew my vision was fading and my reflexes had slowed.

I decided that I would stop before I killed someone.

I admit that there were times when I regretted giving up my car, but I managed to get where I needed to go.

I spend most of my time traveling in an RV by myself. I have been doing it for almost 3 years. I am asked in amazement, "You drive that by yourself?" Yes, I do and I find it a challenge to drive in major cities I have never driven in before but (knock on wood) I've only been honked at once so I guess I'm doing OK. I have been renting a car on the weekends, so it's easier to get around and sight seeing is easier. Thank goodness my driving record is stellar and they don't have any hesitations renting to me at my age (76). The key to driving well, when older, is driving very defensively but keeping up with the flow of traffic. I believe its like anything...once you don't do it for awhile you are hesitant so its wise to keep in practice.

One vision problem not mentioned is that as we age, it takes our eyes longer to react to changes from bright light to dim and vice versa. Like driving from sunlight into deep shadow or a tunnel and into the sun again. Or driving into oncoming headlights, then total darkness, then headlights again. I don't drive at night and try to minimize the sharp contrasts with wraparound sunglasses during the day.

Big celebration with my renewed driver's license this month, though. For the first time in 50 years, there's no vision restriction. Since my cataract surgery, I'm no longer near-sighted.

I completely agree that "... it is one's health that matters more in regard to driving than age."

I drive and have no plans to stop. I have Type 2 diabetes which I've managed well by diet and exercise for over 12 years.

I've also had cataract surgery, and--while development and worsening of cataracts seem to be associated with aging--it's actually associated with lifetime exposure to sunlight. Therefore pilots tend to develop cataracts earlier than other people of the same age.

One thing does scare me about driving though, and that's distracted walking by young people wearing dark clothing on dark rainy mornings in Seattle. It's scary how they don't even look before they start walking across the street. Would I be considered at fault if I couldn't stop in time?

I hope I have the sense to quit driving at the right time. I would love to never have to stop. So far none of my kids complain about my driving and I drive grandkids all over but then youngest son has 9 kids and maybe they're desperate for me to drive off with them, LOL.

I have a 95 year old neighbor who still drives. In the last year, she has ruined 2 tires because she ran up against curbs on 2 different occasions.

She says she will no longer drive at dusk or at night,
but I have seen her on several occasions, come home later than is safe for her or anyone on the road. She recently was told she has glaucoma.

Two years ago a gentlemen down the street backed out of his driveway and could not take his foot off the gas--he backed into and through the
front room of a neighbor 3 doors down.

I understand he has some nerve damage from something other than diabetes....

At 74, I am going to go to the AARP refresher course offered at the end of the month. I have for several years stopped driving at night and set myself up to make right turns, always look for a traffic light to pull out into traffic onto main streets. I no longer go downtown--midtown is iffy
enough. And there is very little available lot or street parking--going into the parking buildings can be a bit scary if you haven't been in that particular building and the light and dark
problem is also a factor.

Now I'm going to have to look more closely at my speedometer There is a button to change from mph to kh and I thought I was speeding going 40 in a 30 mile zone the other day. The button had been pushed to khs....

No one had honked at me, I was coming up to a school zone and knew I couldn't have been going

I avoid night driving since I stopped working three years ago.

My last two years driving home at night from work before retiring were draining to say the least.

We live five minutes walking distance from a bus that can take us to some of our destinations, but not all.

We use our cars for volunteering, hauling big items, driving mom, shopping for groceries, road trips.

I like the idea of having an electric bike some day, but not yet.

My regular bike works fine for now.

Since my husband retired I have actually quit driving -- he takes me everywhere I need to go. However, I still have a driver's license, just in case. I will not drive at night unless it is an emergency.

One thing I've noticed, but which no one has mentioned, is my inability to turn my head far enough to the left or right to see adequately when changing lanes or backing up. At least not as well as I used to be able to do. It's actually painful to turn my head that far.

Like many have mentioned, I avoid driving at night because my eyes do not adjust well enough from having headlights coming towards me and then to the total darkness after they pass me.

When my mother started having many small fender-bender accidents (always her fault), my sister and I decided it was time for her to stop driving. However, my mother did not agree, so my sister disconnected one of the battery cables so that Mom's car wouldn't start. My mother didn't know anything about cars or their engines and never looked under the hood -- she wouldn't have noticed anything amiss even had she looked, so she just figured her car was "broken" and wouldn't run anymore and that's when she stopped driving.

My mother's worst driving habit was to drive when she was emotionally upset about something, anything. She lived with my sister and if they had a disagreement about something, my mother would leave the house and go driving around. Because she was upset and not paying attention to traffic, that was when she would have an accident. Or she would not notice where she was driving and would get lost and then would have to call my sister to come and lead her back home. She just wasn't safe on the roads anymore.

I don't want to endanger others if my health, eyesight or attention might impair my ability to drive. However, my little town has NO public transportation, no taxis, no buses, no trains. My husband and I must move away from here to a larger city before we reach an age where we cannot drive.

Except elderly drivers get much more lenient sentences when they kill/injure somebody. In my area an 80+ woman killed a jogger by speeding and ending up on the sidewalk - she was given a two year licence suspension and a small fine. Another dementia driver killed a jogger, the jogger ended up on her hood, she drove into her driveway, the dead jogger fell off and she never noticed. She got off with absolutely nothing.

I have been almost killed/injured two times by elderly drivers who once made an illegal turn around a stopped bus that I was exiting and another who drove onto the side of the road where I was walking and I jumped into a ditch to avoid them. I even went right up to the guy's house afterwards and he just looked at me with a blank stare.

My 93 year old neighbour had full blown dementia and would get lost driving, the police would bring her home and they said "getting lost was not a crime", nothing they could do.

Now my province of Ontario has a two question dementia test they give you at 80 to weed out the Alzheimer's drivers because denial is something seniors are oh so good at judging by the rationalization in this article along with the comments.

The problem is that if I was a senior in 1915 I would not be a prisoner without a car.

As I have said before in these discussions, at 89 my mother had a small stroke while backing out of a supermarket parking place, hit three cars and two pedestrians, killing one.

The state of New York in its wisdom had recently renewed her license.

Obviously, she should not have been driving. But I don't think she had ever thought of giving up the car, because being able to drive was simply her definition of being an autonomous adult. Thereafter, without the car, she declined precipitously.

I just hope those self-driving cars are ready for me when my time comes!

It's an obvious observation but I'd like to raise the age when kids can drive, with their often horrific propensity not to pay attention, as well as not permitting any drivers, old or young, to drive with the conditions you mention. Seizure disorders should probably be added to the list, by the way.
And I agree that not being able to turn one's head due to arthritis makes driving more difficult as we age.

Considering traffic deaths dwarf death statistics from all other external causes, assuming people will do the right thing when they get to a point when they shouldn't be driving is overly optimistic.

I've known one woman who voluntarily quit driving at 84, but I've known many more who continued driving when they really shouldn't have.

Considering that most elders drive much less, the proportion of accidents is somewhat skewed. Required education for the young -with all the gory photos included - before they're issued a license, and a simple cognitive test every 5 years after 75 for the old might go a long way to limiting

I'm a very cautious driver and intend to quit driving altogether when I reach age 80.

IMO: We should all take a defensive driving course every two years (as required by an NGO with which I volunteer) or three years (that qualifies a driver in Kansas for a mandated reduction in insurance premium) years.

During the particular course that I take every second year, instructions are provided for setting ones exterior mirrors to reduce (or, in many vehicles eliminate) the blind spots - which I had learned from listening to Car Talk many years ago. Most modern vehicles don't provide sufficient rear views even if your head can swivel 360 degrees, so setting the mirrors correctly is a necessity!

As far as decrying the renewing of a driving license just prior to an accident caused by a small stroke: People of all ages have strokes. Years ago, a friend had a disabling stroke at age 36!) In general, I don't know how reasonable it is to expect a physician or DMV tester to determined that one will have a stroke within a few days/weeks/months.

My parents decided my grandmother shouldh't learn to drive in her mid'50s because she was just too old. Later on, my mother looked back on that with great regret. My mother was still doing a fine job of driving at 90. My brother had to give it up in his mid-70s because of macular degeneration.

I'm doing fine at nearly 78, and have no problems with response times, night driving, freeways, etc., etc. Everybody's different. The DMV--and the rest of us-- needs to remember that it is our condiiton, not our age, that should mandate our driving privileges.

If one thinks that one's reaction time is fine at nearly 78, he/she is in denial. It's simply not possible. And there has never been a time when I've been a passenger in car where the driver is 70 (or over) and haven't regretted it.

I've always said that I'll stop driving somewhere between 70 and 75, and most likely I will. I'm 66 and in the process of moving to a city that has good public and free government-sponsored private transportation for senior citizens. I don't look forward to the day when I stop driving but I don't want to be responsible for killing another person, simply because I refuse to admit that my driving days are over.

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