• 478
Getty Images
When does one become too old to drive a car? That's a question currently being pondered more and more by the families of older drivers.

Elderly drivers now account for nearly 20 percent of all motorists, according to the Government Accountability Office. And that number isn't shrinking in the coming years, because those who make up the first wave of the huge baby-boom generation turned 65 this year.

According to a recent survey from The Hartford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AgeLab, almost 1-in-10 adults are now worried about an older family member's driving.

Are Older Drivers Putting Themselves (And Others) At Risk?

The data on elder-driver safety is a mixed bag. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that the nation's senior citizens are actually getting into fewer serious car accidents. Fatal crashes per licensed driver over age 70 fell 37 percent from 1997 to 2008, says the IIHS. Meanwhile, among younger drivers, fatal accidents dropped 23 percent.

But another IIHS study of intersection crashes found that 58 percent of drivers 80 and older failed to yield at intersections, while the number for drivers 70-79 was 37 percent. By comparison, 26 percent of drivers 35-54 failed to yield. "Intersections are especially challenging for the oldest drivers," said Russ Rader, an IIHS spokesperson.

The increase in the number of elderly drivers, and the accompanying concerns by loved ones, have prompted discussions by government agencies, insurance companies and university researchers about how to address this issue. The National Transportation Safety Board recently convened a two-day public forum in Washington to address the topic of America's aging population as it relates to driving.

"First and foremost, we need to recognize the mobility needs of the elderly," said Deborah Bruce, project manager for the NTSB's Office of Highway Safety and organizer of the NTSB forum. The goal of the forum was to discuss ways to prevent and reduce accidents, injuries and fatalities, and to inform the public and other federal agencies about the issue.

Having A Conversation

The American Association of Retired Persons teamed up with the MIT AgeLab -- in conjunction with The Hartford -- to produce an online course, titled "We Need to Talk." It gives family members information on the emotional connection to driving, tips on observing the driving skills of their elderly parents, and suggestions on how to broach the subject of whether or not the elderly parent's driving skills may have diminished -- and if so, when it might be time to hang up the keys.

"The number of older drivers on the road is definitely a concern, and their number can't help but increase in the years ahead, due to the aging of the population," said Lisa D'Ambrosio, a research scientist at the MIT AgeLab who helped develop the online course, as well as the original guide book that inspired it.

"We know that having that first conversation with an older parent is going to be a difficult one, because driving is so intrinsic to our sense of independence and autonomy," said D'Ambrosio. "So many of us are dependent on driving, especially in regions where public transportation does not exist, or is inconvenient, or runs irregularly. There is also a concern about what the transportation alternatives might be if an older person has to stop driving."

NTSB's Bruce added that "special-needs transportation services are inadequate to meet the current needs of the elderly, much less respond to the growing need" in the future.

Ultimately, then, the subject of whether the driving skills of the elderly have diminished may be less about driving itself -- and more about their ability to make their own decisions, and not be dependent on others.

Some of the key factors that can affect an older person's driving skills are the possibility of diminishing vision, or not being flexible enough to turn around to check blind spots, or not having the coordination or strength to adequately operate the accelerator and brake pedal.

Judging If Someone Is Fit For Driving

One way to determine whether an elder parent is having such problems is to ride with them and observe, then, based on those observations, deciding whether it is time to have "the conversation," advised Elinor Ginzler, who heads the AARP's work on health issues.

"Driving with a loved one lets you both talk from experience rather than from perception," said Ginzler. "It also gives the adult child a way to open a conversation about driving. 'Mom, I couldn't help but notice...' is a lot less alarming than, 'Mom, I want to talk with you about something.' "

Gven the sensitivity of the subject, it also might be more effective to have a progression of conversations, over time, based on those observations, as opposed to having one "big talk." It's probably best to not just start with "give up the keys," observed Ginzler.

Obviously, there is no specific age at which an older person should stop driving – it all depends on the individual, their health, and their driving skills. Driver's license renewal procedures for older drivers vary from state to state. Twenty-six states have special license-renewal requirements for senior-citizen drivers. In some states, older drivers must apply for renewal more frequently once they reach the age of 65. In others, it's 70, in others it's 72. Some states require that drivers over a certain age renew their licenses in person rather than electronically or by mail. And in some cases, road tests and/or vision tests may be required, depending on the state.

Warning Signs: 20 Things To Look For In Eldely Drivers

• Decrease in confidence while driving
• Difficulty turning to see when backing up
• Easily distracted while driving
• Other drivers often honk horns
• Hitting curbs
• Scrapes or dents on the car, mailbox or garage
• Increased agitation or irritation when driving
• Failure to notice traffic signs or important activity on the side of the road
• Trouble navigating turns
• Driving at inappropriate speeds
• Uses a "copilot"
• Bad judgment making left turns
• Delayed response to unexpected situations
• Moving into wrong lane or difficulty maintaining lane position
• Confusion at exits
• Ticketed moving violations or warnings
• Getting lost in familiar places
• Car accident
• Failure to stop at stop sign or red light
• Stopping in traffic for no apparent reason

Ranked from minor to serious. Source: IIHS

If a person's continued fitness to drive is in doubt, because of the person's appearance or demeanor at the license-renewal appointment -- or because of a history of crashes or violations, reports by physicians, police, and others -- state licensing agencies may require renewal applicants to undergo physical or mental examinations, according to the IIHS. States generally have medical review boards, consisting of health care professionals, who advise on licensing standards, and in individual cases where a person's ability to drive safely is in doubt.

"What families need to do is look for patterns of warning signs and for an increase in frequency and severity of the warning signs," said MIT's D'Ambrosio

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Months Ago
      I'll be 70 in March. I'm very much aware of my driving skills. I used to love driving at night, I'm not as confident now and limit my exposure. I'll know in my heart and mind when the time comes for me to hand over the keys.
      • 7 Months Ago
      I don't think you can judge a persons driving by their age specifically. Obviously, younger drivers are more likely to be involved in an accident than anyone else, but I don't think that means younger drivers shouldn't be allowed to drive. At 16 I was mature enough to understand what I was doing and how it affected everyone else. I firmly believe that senior citizens are capable of driving. I think it depends on mental health and awareness. There are many 90 year olds who I would feel comfortable riding with, but I still think that there should be extra stipulations as you reach a certain age. Just yesterday, I live in SC, a 93 year old woman was killed driving the wrong way down the interstate. Obviously not common, but still an issue. She was either not aware of what was going on around her or she might have had a mental health issue. I don't mean to offend older drivers, but I think maybe at 75 there should be a mandatory retaking of the drivers test. To everyone. It wouldn't hurt and it would certainly help with the anomolies. Who knows though. That would mean a much longer wait at the DMV than there already is.
      • 7 Months Ago
      .. what about the idiot kids 16 yrs old..drivinf and chatting or texing on a cell phone they are a greater danger than an older driver
      Welcome Trey
      • 7 Months Ago
      Nope, take away keys from 16 year olds. Make them wait until at least 18, or 21.
      • 7 Months Ago
      Increased agitation or irritation when driving this is a reason to stop driving. Get rid of the bad drive and this would not be a problem. Here is the problem with older drivers. They can't handle themselves in a any situation, they pull out in front of you, they drive to dam slow, and believe it or not cause more accident. Understand when I say cause, they aren't involved they just casue them and keep driving away.
      • 7 Months Ago
      kornsawesome87 Sorry I had the cap locks on, but if you knew me you would know I never lie, I would rather cop up to something I did wrong, etc than have people not respect me for telling a lie, people will find out if you lie and then they don't trust or respect you... so I never lie
      Welcome Trey
      • 7 Months Ago
      LYak, I think you are lying. Is it necessary to have it on all caps?
      • 7 Months Ago
      How can you lump senior drives in to a group that should not drive because they can't handle them selves, any more than you can say the same thing about young adult drivers. I live in a senior area, we have no public transprotation. So there may be many who drive who should not, but I don't notice that many. I have a 90 year old lady who lives behind me does almost all her own yard work including climb a tree to trim it, how can you tell her she is too old to drive? How can you judge? I am not sure even with this if I would want to ride with her. So you can't tell, There is no way you can. I had the first accident in 30 years several month ago. I backed out of a parking space just as a car pulled up behind me. Because I was backing up it was charge to me. I am 86 years old. I don't have a problem driving, I don't drive as much as I use to. I don't like driving at night, never did . So what do you want to do? Take the car away from every one when they reach a certain age, then you will need to bring in a death panel and put all of them away. No easy answer as there is no easy answer about how young to let a person drive. One thing is that you don't get too many seniors getting DUI.
      • 7 Months Ago
      THIS SEEMS TO BE A LIVELY TOPIC!!! are most here in that senior grove? halfatuna-aol
      • 7 Months Ago
      Welcome to Florida is speaking the truth, Florida has a "hands-off" approach to senior drivers. They pour alot of money into the state and are a huge voting block !
      • 7 Months Ago
      I am 71 years old,and i feel one should be allowed to drive until eighty, If they are safe drivers, and are able to pass the drivers test. every 4 years. thanks M d
      • 7 Months Ago
      Stop trashing the elderly. For every accident caused by an old person's slow reflexes, there are ten accidents caused by a young person's immaturity or the impatience of someone middle aged. Poor eyesight is not limited to the old. When are most fatal accidents? Answer: at night Most elderly aren't out driving late and few are in rush hour traffic.
    • Load More Comments