Seniors and Driving: Tips to Keeping Seniors Safer On the Road

As a person ages, their health and wellbeing can deteriorate in ways that make operating a vehicle more difficult. Reaction times can slow down, vision and hearing are on the decline, and some daily medications come with unexpected side effects that make safe driving more challenging. New car technologies can also be overwhelming to understand and operate.

While there is no specific age that a person’s license can be revoked, most states do impose certain requirements and restrictions on older drivers to keep them — and our roadways — safe.

Here are some commonly asked questions and answers about seniors and driving:

How often do seniors need to renew their driver’s licenses? Do they need to retake a driving test as they age?

According to driving-tests.org, “each state has a different renewal cycle for elderly drivers.” Visit this site and choose your state from the drop-down menu to find out what are your state requirements.

It’s also important to note that the requirements imposed on older drivers can vary according to the state in which your driver’s license was issued, and can include mandatory in-person renewals, road tests, and things like recurring vision tests during every license renewal.

Some states, like Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, offer confidential unsafe driver reporting by anyone, such as a doctor, law enforcement professional, or relative. Once reported, the driver in question may be required to provide medical reports or perform road, written, or vision testing at a DMV to maintain their driver’s license.

Other states like Illinois require that drivers over the age of 81 renew their driver’s license every two years; after age 87, drivers must renew annually.

State-by-state license renewal cycles and other helpful information can also be found at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) website.

Who is eligible for handicap parking? And how can I obtain a handicapped parking license plate, sticker, or placard for my vehicle?

The handicap parking program for disabled individuals and their caregivers is managed by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and the criteria to obtain a parking permit varies by state. Senior citizens or persons over a certain age do not automatically qualify for a handicap parking permit.

The two most common handicap permits are handicap license plates for disabled drivers, and handicap placards, which attach to a vehicle’s rearview mirror. Handicap placards are ideal for caregivers because they can be transferred to any vehicle used to transport a person with mobility issues.

Permanent disability placards require renewal forms; placards issued for a temporary medical disability (i.e. such as an accident or post-surgery) cannot be renewed in most states without the certification of a licensed healthcare provider. Temporary disability placards are generally good for six months unless otherwise indicated by your medical care provider.

Those in need of handicap parking access, for themselves or as a caregiver who transports a person with mobility issues, can pick up a handicap permit form in person at their nearest DMV location or download one from your state’s DMV website. It’s important to note that your medical care provider will need to complete and sign a portion of the form to verify your disability.

Completed applications can be submitted by mail or in person at your local DMV.

What can seniors do to hone their driving skills as they age?

The American Automobile Association (AAA) reports “by 2030, there will be more than 70 million people age 65 and older, and approximately 85-90 percent of them will be licensed to drive.”

To keep seniors driving longer and as safely as possible, AAA offers several free programs available to evaluate driving ability and maintain good driving skills. Here are some of them:

  • AAA’s RoadWise™ driver program is an online senior driving defensive course designed to “positively affect driving behavior and help you learn about and adjust to age-related physical changes.”
  • AAA also offers very helpful Driver Evaluation information that helps determine if a person’s driving skills have diminished. Their Drivers 65 Plus self-rating tool brochure is a very good place to start, however, if you are in need of a professional assessment, clinical driving assessment, or a more formal driving skills evaluation, AAA has club-owned and AAA-approved driving schools in many locations. Reach out to your local AAA club for more information.

Vehicle technology innovation is so advanced that it is increasingly confusing to older drivers. How can seniors learn to adapt to all the new technology in cars?

New car technology has become so advanced that even the tech-savviest among us have trouble adapting to all the bells and whistles of a new car. One positive for seniors: much of the technology comes in the form of new safety features that help drivers stay safer on the road. Added features such as backup cameras, GPS mapping, forward collision warning, brake assists, pedestrian detection, lane departure warnings, and blind-spot warnings all make for much safer driving and fewer accidents.

When purchasing a new vehicle, be sure to test drive several different options and ask a lot of questions. AAA offers a great training guide on advanced driver assistance technology for older driver safety, designed to familiarize seniors and their caregivers with the capabilities and limitations of various driver safety technologies. There is also a downloadable AAA Q/A sheet to print out that can help guide the conversation with your car dealer salesperson when shopping for a new car.

Remember: the more education you receive about operating your new vehicle, the safer you’ll be!

How can seniors lower their car insurance premiums?

Vehicle insurance premiums for seniors can be expensive, especially if you’d had an accident or two in recent years. The AARP Smart Driver™ course can help lower insurance premiums and improve driving skills.

Designed as a driver safety program specifically to help seniors hone their driving skills through proven safety and defensive driving techniques, the comprehensive course offers information on reducing distractions and the proper use of safety belts, airbags, and new car technologies.

According to AARP, its Smart Driver program also addresses other challenges particularly experienced by seniors such as new rules of the road and “how to compensate for challenges in vision, hearing, and reaction time.”

Once completed, seniors are eligible for a multi-year discount on auto insurance. The AARP Smart Driver™ course can be completed online or in-person, and AARP members receive discounts on registration.

What are the most common warning signs that it’s time to stop driving?

The truth is, seniors can be great drivers – until they aren’t. In many cases, a health-related issue makes it suddenly more difficult to get safely behind the wheel; for others, it’s a slow and steady decline that makes it harder to determine when is the right time to call it quits.

No matter when it happens, it can be incredibly difficult to face the fact that a person no longer should be driving — and even harder to hand over their keys for good. For many, it feels like the end of their independence, but for those suffering the early signs of dementia, they might not fully understand or accept their condition, which makes it particularly hard on their caregivers.

Some common signs that it’s time to turn in your keys — or intervene on behalf of an older loved one include:

  • Getting lost in familiar surroundings
  • Feelings of frequent confusion or disorientation
  • Driving too slow — or too fast
  • Running stop signs or forgetting the basic rules of the road
  • Frequent minor accidents and close calls
  • Failing the guardrails your state’s DMV has in place to help determine when a person is no longer a safe driver due to vision or other declining health conditions

How do you manage transportation when driving isn’t an option?

As you evaluate the right next steps for your family and senior loved one it’s important to understand transportation options. At many Independent Living communities, residents can continue to drive and come and go as they please as long as they can do it safely. Assisted Living and Memory Care communities typically offer transportation services included within their rates within a radius of the community. This amenity can be utilized for transportation to medical appointments or other errands. Additional transportation support is available but often comes with added expense. If you are looking to learn more about senior living options and if they may be right for your loved one Medical Alert has you covered. Medical Alert partners with A Place for Mom, the leading senior living advisory service in the U.S., whose expert advisors help caregivers and their families find the right senior living options for their aging loved ones through personalized referrals, tour scheduling and move-in support. Their services come at no cost to families as A Place for Mom is paid for by its network of 17,000+ participating communities and home care providers.

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