(WKBN) – Is it time to give up your license?
It’s not an easy conversation but one that you may have to have with older family members who are experiencing cognitive decline in their later years, or younger people who have experienced medical issues that impair their driving skills.
“Research shows us that older drivers are among the safest, but health is more connected to driving retirement than age. That being said, most of us will outlive our ability to drive safe by about seven to 10 years,” said Josh Dunning, vice president of AARP Driver Safety.
“So having that conversation is important, though complex and emotionally charged.”
There are programs that can help with those difficult conversations. AARP’s “We Need to Talk” is a free program that helps drivers and caregivers prepare when it may be time to give up and stop driving. The program includes ways to access driving skills and tips on how to bring up the topic.
Dunning recommends having those discussions early, before there are problems. He said older drivers often say they prefer having a discreet discussion with a loved one.
If you’re worried about someone’s driving, start by riding with them.
“Look for consistent warning signs: things like a decreased confidence in driving, becoming easily distracted while driving, or driving too fast or too slow for road conditions,” Dunning said.
He added it’s important to talk with older drivers about what’s really important to them, such as asking who are the people they want to see and the places they need to go. Then, you can build a transportation plan that allows them to be safe and connected.
If you do feel that it’s necessary, there is a process for taking away someone’s license. That begins with a report to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
The Ohio BMV does not keep statistics about the number of driver’s licenses being revoked due to age, however, it does track its medical cases. Of those, 34,393 resulted in suspended licenses and 48,256 are in compliance, as of data provided to WKBN on July 13.
Those who are in compliance have medical issues ranging from anything from epilepsy to diabetes but are following the terms that allow them to drive. Those medical cases include drivers of all ages. Those who are required to retest due to cognitive or physical decline, such as elderly drivers, would be a small portion of the medical cases, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
If the department has determined that someone is unable to safely operate a vehicle, their license would be placed under a medical suspension.
Cases can be reported to the BMV by law enforcement, doctors or another concerned person. While doctors can remain anonymous in their reporting, other “concerned individuals,” including family members, would be named in their report, which is sent to the driver in question.
A form is then mailed to the driver, which needs to be filled out by a doctor. The doctor can stop the case or require that the driver be retested. If the driver fails the test, their license remains suspended.
Depending on the case, retests may be required every year.
There is an appeals process, which is free to the driver if that driver wants to appeal.
For those who can still safely drive, there are also programs to help older drivers brush up on their skills.
AARP‘s Smart Driver program is a refresher course for those 50 and older. The course covers defensive driving, operating vehicles, managing age-related changes and learning the current rules of the road.
It’s offered online and in-person, and some insurances offer discounts for taking the course.
Dunning said 9 in 10 drivers say they make at least one change after taking the course.
“Just like we maintain our cars, we should maintain our driving knowledge and skills,” Dunning said.
AARP also has a “Car Fit” program, in partnership with AAA and the American Occupational Association. It allows drivers to meet with trained technicians to check how well their personal vehicles “fit” them in order to enhance safety and mobility.
For more information on those programs, go to aarp.com/drive.
AAA also offers a two-day safe driving course for mature drivers.
Judy Powell attended a class at the Ohio Living Senior Center in Youngstown in early August. She said her main reason for signing up was the discount she is receiving from her insurance, but she learned some helpful tips as well.
“I think that you learn a lot that has changed,” she said, adding that some of the new signs have surprised her.
Lori Cook, of AAA, said the class includes a skills demonstration using participants’ own vehicles, and all participants receive a certificate of completion.
“There are people that are 60 and 70, and even in their 80s and beyond in this class, and some of them never took driver education. Think about how many signs have changed, how many laws have changed, how cars have changed. We even go over the technology in vehicles,” Cook said.
Cook said they also go over safety tips that may surprise even younger drivers.
“You and I probably learned that 10 and 2 was the safest place to put your hands on the steering wheel. It’s no longer appropriate to put your hands there because of airbags,” Cook said.
Cook said she tells senior drivers to drop their hands to 8 and 4 so that they can reach their buttons easier, and their arms don’t get fatigued as quickly.
“Age doesn’t determine when you should start or stop driving, but age affects driving. So it’s not that we can’t do it as we get older. We have to do things more methodically, we have to be better planners, you know, thinking about the times that we go places,” Cook said.
Those interested in taking AAA’s classes can contact their local AAA branch or their senior center. Classes are usually publicized in AAA’s publications. There is a charge for the classes, though AAA members can receive a discount.
AAA offers the following tips for senior drivers:
- Get regular eye exams.
- Limit driving to daytime hours.
- Turn your head to see more.
- Keep lights, mirrors and windshields clean.
- Switch to a larger rearview mirror.
- Keep your eyes looking 20-30 seconds ahead.
- Sit up straight in the driver’s seat. Hands should be at the 8 and 4 steering position, while the heel of your right foot should remain on the floor and pivot between the gas and brake.
- Adjust mirrors outward to reduce blind spots.
- Use all safety equipment correctly (lap/shoulder harness should be across the bone, not soft tissue. Head restraint should be adjusted to the top level of your head. Sit at least 10″ away from the airbag).
- Leave more space in front of your car.
- Avoid left turns and backing.
- Reduce distractions
- Plan your route. Use side streets instead of freeways, and avoid rush hour.
- Familiarize yourself with your vehicle technology.
- Avoid driving when starting a new medication, and be aware of how medications you’re taking may affect driving. If any medication makes you feel sleepy or disoriented, do not drive.