Options available to address dangerous drivers
The recent death of a Lenawee County woman pinned between two cars in the Adrian Walmart parking lot raises questions about when a person should stop driving. The accident occurred when an 89-year-old man accidentally depressed the gas pedal instead of the brake, trapping the woman between two vehicles.
The accident is still under investigation at this time. This incident is not the only local example of driving fatalities involving senior citizens.
Tom MacNaughton, Director of the Lenawee Department on Aging, said local senior centers often observe members who show signs they should not be driving. They recently began the process of having two people reviewed by the Secretary of State’s office for poor driving, but before the process could begin for either person, they died in vehicle crashes due to driving mistakes.
According to Fred Woodhams of the Michigan Secretary of State, drivers 65 and older actually are less likely to be in a car crash, drive drunk, or drive without a seatbelt. The Secretary of State receives approximately 300 calls each month from law enforcement or family members to report unsafe drivers.
Not all the calls are for senior drivers. Woodhams said, “There are problematic drivers of all ages.”
Woodhams suggests the best course of action when there are worries is to sit down and talk with the family member directly. He encourages the person approached about his or her driving to listen to the family’s concerns.
“The issue of senior drivers is one we receive a lot of questions about,” Woodhams said. “We are an aging society.”
When a driver does not respond positively to the family intervention, the next step is for family members to fill out a “Request for Driver Examination.” The form details issues with a driver and requests a formal evaluation. Although the form requires the name of the person requesting the investigation, that information is not given to the person being evaluated.
An assessor looks at a variety of information including driving and accident record as well as doctor or optometrist reports. The driver may be required to have a complete vision exam, take a written test, or even complete a road test. If the driver does not report for the evaluation, then his or her license is suspended.
The evaluation clears a person who does well, while a driver exhibiting issues can have his or her license temporarily suspended or permanently revoked. Another possibility is a license with restrictions placed on it, similar to licenses for teens. Restrictions include only driving to and from work, staying within ten miles from home, or only driving during the day.
Making the decision to stop driving is a challenging one for most people, especially those who live alone. “Giving up a drivers license can be a difficult choice to make,” Woodhams said.
“People are afraid to stop driving because they will be stranded,” said MacNaughton. He reminds seniors that the Lenawee Department on Aging offers ride assistance to and from doctor appointments.
Many senior citizens keep their driver’s licenses current to use as a form of identification, which can present a temptation to drive when it is not a safe choice. According to Woodhams, senior citizens are eligible to get a state picture ID card at no charge, eliminating the need to have a driver’s license as identification.
The key is for honest assessment of physical and mental issues that make driving hazardous by every driver. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) addresses when it’s time to give up driving on its website and gives a list of 10 signs showing a driver should consider putting away the car keys. Some of the suggestions focus on increased physical limitations, like vision problems, not being able to turn and check blind spots and mirrors or experiencing trouble switching from the gas pedal to the brake.
Others target mental confusion like getting lost easily, experiencing road rage, being distracted, and finding dents on the car or personal property. The site’s last reminder is that anyone regularly receiving tickets and warnings from the police should consider taking a break from driving. There is also a link to help families approach an unsafe driver without causing offense.
Although the list is on the AARP website, the basic suggestions of mental distraction and physical limitations could apply to drivers of any age. Young people are often distracted by technology and lack the experience to predict possibilities of driving maneuvers. Adults often multi-task in the car or get distracted by children, which causes impaired focus and attention.
“We always encourage senior drivers to be aware of their physical limitations,” Woodhams said. He recommends older drivers to talk to a doctor about any concerns and to check on whether medications could cause a problem. Both MacNaughton and Woodhams believe refresher courses can be very helpful for senior drivers.
The bottom line, experts say, is that drivers of all ages need to be focused and able to respond quickly when traveling roads and parking lots. Good drivers address any issues before tragedy strikes.