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Occasional ramblings by an anesthesiologist/mother (and sometimes her husband).

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Assessing Driving Ability

Yesterday, my husband and I were out shopping at the local Wegmans. While we were walking into the store, we observed an elderly gentleman (probably in his 70s) backing out of a parking spot. As we were watching, we knew he was going to back right into a car parked across the way. Now this is a wide lane - wide enough for two Hummers to drive side by side. As predicted, he hit the car. There was NO evidence in his face that he even realized that he hit another vehicle and he proceeded to drive off . The car he hit was a mid 80s Cadillac and he hit it hard enough to make it rock. Just knowing this guy was out on the road made me very nervous. He was so unaware of his surroundings that he hit a large parked car without even noticing it.

I come home today and read on Drudge that an 89 year old man drove his car into an open air market injuring 10 people. Not to mention the incident in Santa Monica in 2003 that killed 10 people.

There are more and more elderly drivers on the roads today. I can't even begin to count the number of times I have nearly been hit by an elderly driver. Especially in dusk or at night. This probably happens to me three or four times a week. It is only going to get worse as the Baby Boomer generation (the one that includes my parents) gets older.

One of my grandfathers (my dad's dad) voluntarily took himself off the road at night because he realized he wasn't able to drive safely after dark . My other grandfather always insisted on driving and had a few near misses. When I was living at my parents, our next door neighbor was in her 80s and still driving. We almost got hit by her a few times.
Assessing driving ability


It has been well established that teenagers have a high rate of automobile accidents, mostly related to reckless behavior. It is also clear that as we age our eyesight and reflexes dull. In order to be a safe driver you need good reflexes. Although I'm sure that the AARP would lobby heavily against it, I truly believe that we need to retest drivers to reassess their abilities. I think this should happen from the moment you first start driving, with the frequency of retesting increasing with increasing age. I'm sure I'll hear from people telling me that the elderly need the freedom and mobility that come with driving. This article was recently in the news. It showed that there was a relationship between an elderly persons functional status and their mobility via car. They recommended looking at driving ability as part of the ADLs (activities of daily living) that are assessed by physical therapists. Now does stopping driving decrease functional status or does poor functional status decrease ability to drive? I don't have an answer for this, but I believe it's the latter.

It is important for those of us with older parents to constantly assess their ability to drive. We also need to have the fortitude to insist that they stop when they become a danger to others. This means inconveniencing ourselves to help them run errands, go to doctors appointments, etc. But in the long run, isn't a little personal inconvenience worth saving lives?

See my other half's earlier post for more on this.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Kristen said...

I've come to the same conclusion -- the only fair way to make sure everyone is safe, and a safe driver, is to retest every driver on a regular basis. First retest perhaps five years after first passing -- and yes, I'm just past that five year mark myself -- and then maybe every 5-10 years after that, definitely dropping back to 5 years or so once you hit retirement age. (Yes, a lot can happen in five years, but that's probably the only way to get it passed, at least to begin with.)

Holy crap, politics we can agree on. s;)

8:22 PM  
Blogger Gail Rae said...

One other problem with the elderly and cars: Both my maternal grandmother and my mother, in the first stages of "mental creativity", began forgetting to put the parking break on and put the car in neutral when parking. My grandmother did it in a supermarket parking lot and her car got into an accident "all by itself". My mother, luckily, did it at her home. The car rolled down the driveway and came to a stop in the middle of the neighborhood street, blocking access, until one of her neighbors noticed it. As a sidebar, she had left the keys in the car, as well. When her neighbor knocked on the door, she'd been taking a nap. When she came out to retrieve the car, the neighbor told me, she was so hazy she couldn't remember how to operate the car, so he put the car back in her driveway.
I'm so glad you're addressing this problem of the elderly and cars. Thank you.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

I had to hide my father's car keys when his dementia progressed. Very few things have ever made me feel worse. Of course, I'm sure I'd have felt even worse than that if I hadn't taken them away.

A distant relative of ours insisted on driving after he became legally blind. He would stick his head out the window and squint at the road. Amazingly, he never smashed up his car, but I was immensely relieved when he moved into a nursing home.

Then again, I have several 80+ relatives who still drive carefully and without incident. A few have voluntarily retired from interstate-speed or nighttime driving, and I have no concerns about their driving around town at 35 mph. Hope that closer members of the family are keeping vigilant, though, in case of problems.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Helen-Claire said...

I wonder if that's how my shiny new ute got its tailgate smashed...

I've seen similar things on the roads here. Elderly people changing lanes without looking first and almost wiping out another car, I've seen an elderly man go straight though a red light! Luckily it was night and not very busy, I cringe to think of what may have been during the day. We're trying to get my Grandmother to drive less, as she's starting to become less aware of what's going on around her. I think it'd be a big fight to get me to give up driving when the time came though!

12:22 AM  

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