Managing an elderly family member's finances and medical care can be challenging, but one of the most difficult issues to broach is often a senior's ability to drive. Due to cognitive and physical impairments, older drivers may become a hazard to themselves and others, but the loss of a license and vehicle can be devastating.
A recent AAA survey found that approximately 50 percent of retirement-age drivers are concerned about their ability to independently get around should they need to give up driving. For those living in rural areas and districts with few public transit options, life without a car often means depending on family members, a private care attendant, hired cars or delivery services.
"By 2020 it's estimated that nearly one in six people will be age 65 or older and most of them will be licensed to drive," said AAA Chicago's director of public affairs, Beth Mosher. "No matter how active and healthy seniors are today, it's evident that anxiety about giving up the keys is an age-old concern."
A new Canadian program may serve as a model for states that wish to lower the rate of elderly automobile accidents without completely removing the ability to drive. Pointing to success with a similar program for young drivers, a recently released study suggests limiting the conditions in which certain seniors would be able to operate a vehicle.
"The compelling benefits to young drivers suggest that a policy of graduated licensing for seniors also deserves serious consideration," noted the authors of the study, which was published in a recent edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The proposed system would allow driving in "favorable roadway conditions" and limit elderly drivers during storms and other events that could hinder visibility and traction, with the graduated system based partly on a senior's health.
In the United States, licensing is controlled by state governments, so a sweeping change like the program suggested for Canada would pose interstate driving dilemmas unless enacted at the federal level. One means of combating age-related accidents without legislation is self-policing: 80 percent of the AAA survey respondents report avoiding driving during difficult conditions, including at night, during a weather event and at rush hour.
Family members providing senior care may be able to forestall the loss of an elderly parent's license through the "self-policing" notion, but a medical professional is often the best judge of a patient's ability to safely operate a vehicle.