By Christine Green
Not many people can say they have a completely clean driving record with no tickets or accidents whatsoever unless you are Dennis Adams of Brighton. Adams, 80, has been driving for over 60 years and takes the responsibility of operating a car very seriously.
“It is a matter of respect for human life. The purpose of driving is to get from here to there in one piece. It is irresponsible for anyone to endanger other drivers even if they are careless about themselves.”
Adams attributes his pristine driving record to more than simply due diligence. He also realizes that his excellent health — including good hearing and vision — helps him stay on the road in his golden years.
“I’m in much better health than most people my age are despite having colon cancer last year,” said Adams. “I feel terrific. I don’t have hearing loss, I don’t have arthritis. That’s not supposed to happen but that’s the way it is.”
Older Drivers & Accidents
Unfortunately, some older drivers develop health conditions that inhibit their ability to drive safely which can lead to accidents. A 2016 study showed that age-related motor vehicle accidents are on the rise.
“The increase in age generally correlates with decrease in functionality, and elderly drivers commonly experience physiological and mental changes that may deem them unsuitable for driving and hazardous to other drivers,” according to the authors of a study titled “The Geriatric Driver: Factors That Influence When to Stop Driving,” published in 2016.
But this trend is in no way static, and drivers in their older years can take steps to ensure they continue to be safe on the road.
Re-evaluation & Staying
Several driving schools offer driver re-evaluation programs for older drivers and those with health and cognitive concerns. Taking one of these tests can be a useful tool for older drivers and their families.
Kerry Donnelly is the assistant manager of driver training for the American Automobile association (AAA) in the greater Rochester area. She said that just because a person is aging doesn’t necessarily mean they shouldn’t be driving.
“We really feel strongly that older drivers can be safe on the road. It is usually the health conditions that catch up with them eventually. We’ve done evaluations with drivers as old as 95 who have done just fine.”
And what about those that don’t do as well on the reevaluation test? Many older drivers just need a refresher course to get reacquainted with the latest driving laws and the techniques employed by safe drivers. A variety of driving schools, community centers, and organizations such as AAA and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) offer such classes.
Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, was in the news recently after he got involved in a car accident near London. He didn’t suffer any injury but despite his age — 97 — he continues to drive. How old is old enough to do it? What are the early signs indicating you should stop driving?
Sometimes, the driver may just need to self-limit their driving. For instance, giving up highway or night driving to accommodate for vision or reaction time concerns may go a long way toward increasing older driver safety.
In other cases, the re-evaluation tester or driving course instructor may recommend technology that can help keep a driver on the road longer. Things like larger mirrors for those who have limited neck mobility or steering wheel spinner knobs to maintain a better grip are just a few of the available devices. Donnelly also mentioned that there have been older drivers who have mentioned musculoskeletal pain that is inhibiting them. A thorough doctor’s physical to address these concerns can help alleviate pain making the driver more comfortable and thus safer.
Helping Your Loved One
AAA (seniordriving.aaa.com) has several suggestions and resources if you have concerns about an older friend or loved one and their driving habits. They suggest approaching the subject gently. Lots of people associate independent driving with independence, so abruptly approaching an older or elderly driver about this topic can be upsetting. Be kind and keep the lines of communications open. Allow the driver to respond to any concerns you may have and listen to them with respect.
They also suggest avoiding a large group discussion. Bringing the entire family to the conversation can feel more like an intervention than a respectful discussion between adults. Finally, don’t be accusatory or assume they should stop driving. Suggest a re-evaluation and focus on their safety and the safety of others on the road.
Those still unsure of how to handle this important discussion can find resources at the AARP website including a free online course on the subject. The three-module course is a short, self-paced class called “We Need to Talk” and can be found at aarp.org.
Handing Over the Keys
In some cases, there is no other choice than for the driver to give up driving. If this is the case for you or a someone you know start out the process by making a thorough plan.
“Have a preformed plan on how they are going to get places,” said Donnelly. “No one wants to be a burden and have to call someone for a ride to get a gallon of milk. There has to be a plan.”
This may mean researching a car service, public transportation, senior shuttles, and rides from friends and family.
Rochester resident Judith VanNess, 86, made a plan to use the Rochester bus system when macular degeneration and a heart condition spurred her to give up driving six years ago. She makes sure to always check the bus schedules and keep apprised of any changing routes. She now takes the bus everywhere she needs to go and gets the occasional ride from friends and family as needed.
“I’m not driving because I’m safer and safer in regards to my place in the community. I really don’t want to be destructive in any way behind a wheel,” said VanNess.
If someone you know is giving up driving remember to be as supportive as possible, as this can be a very difficult life change.
The wife of Dennis Adams, the Brighton driver who never got a traffic ticket, had to give up driving at age 90 because of various medical issues. He said, “It was very difficult for her. She did not want to give it up. She loved to drive just for the fun of it.”
Adams also recommends that older drivers don’t need to wait until someone else approaches them about their driving safety. Looking inwards and being self-aware can save lives.
“Everyone values the independence of being able to get around by themselves. But there is going to come a time when you don’t belong on the road and you have to be considerate and respectful enough of human life to stop driving.”