Family matters: Age and driving ability

Getting older does not make you a bad driver, but changes in the ability to drive safely can. Pennsylvania drivers want to hang onto their driving privileges as long as possible to retain the independence that a vehicle provides.

Family members frequently hesitate to broach the subject of driving with an older relative, knowing that it could cause the person to become defensive. The conversation often fizzles and only comes up again when the relative’s driving behavior becomes risky or there is a car accident.

Age is no defense in a personal injury or wrongful death case, when an older driver is responsible for harming others in a motor vehicle accident. Any driver who acts carelessly or recklessly may be considered negligent and liable for injuries and deaths.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends finding out more about an older driver’s activities before making any judgments or taking any actions. Your own observations can be combined with information provided by others who interact with the older person regularly. You can record what you see while riding with or following the relative as he or she drives.

Be careful not to make assumptions about the person’s abilities due to age. Be certain that your assessment is based on driving fitness. Running stop signs or red lights, speeding or slow driving and aggressive driving can pose an immediate danger to your family member and other drivers. Red flags accompany off-road behaviors like coordination loss and dizziness.

Consult with your relative’s medical professionals — doctors, pharmacist or ophthalmologist — while being mindful that you may need the older person’s permission to do so. You may also speak with a police officer about possible license restrictions and an attorney about the legal responsibilities of drivers with physical or mental limitations.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “How to Understand & Influence Older Drivers,” accessed May 29, 2015

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