How Old is Too Old to Drive?

As we age, how long should we continue driving? Should the DMV pull our licenses at, say, 70? Or is that age discrimination? Could health changes affect our driving skills, or can we assume our driving ability will remain intact for as long as we want? Could there be an intermediary step where we periodically assess our driving capacity?

These questions are weighty and the answers are complicated. While there is excellent alternative community transportation available to seniors, many of us are—or will be—loath to surrender our cars. This is one of the most common conundrums discussed in my office.

Fortunately, this topic is the focus of a recent study by the California Task Force on Older Adults and Traffic Safety. The report, and its recommendations, is available online at www.eldersafety.org.

In addition, the UC Berkeley Traffic Safety Center has invited professionals to a daylong workshop titled “Extending the Safe Driving Years.” This conference will respond to the task force report and examine a comprehensive approach for improving older driver safety.

The eldersafety.org Web site offers an excellent downloadable booklet, developed by the USAA Educational Foundation, AARP and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully” (under the section entitled “Resources for Older Adults”) details the physical effects of aging as well as tips on coping with such effects in order to remain a safe driver.

The general consensus is that driving capacity should not be judged by age alone, but by changes in vision, reflexes and physical stamina. People who accurately assess these changes can adjust their driving habits so that they stay safe on the road, or choose other kinds of transportation.

“Older drivers are not a serious threat to the health and safety of other motorists,” said John Eberhard, of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “They kill fewer motorists and pedestrians than drivers of any age group. They have the lowest crash involvement rates per licensed driver.

“The real public health issue is the health and safety of older drivers and occupants themselves.”

And this is not a topic that can be ignored. According to the UC Berkeley Traffic Safety Center, by 2020 the population of Californians over age 65 is projected to increase by 50 percent to about 500,000 people.



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