My 75-year-old mother is fiercely independent, resents interference and loves the freedom of not having to wait on buses, vans, taxis or busy relatives. So she insists on continuing to drive.
Perhaps it’s only my imagination, but it seems that I’m increasingly hearing about older drivers who have lost control of their vehicle and crashed into other cars, businesses or worse. This year, a 76-year-old woman in Florida rammed her car into a crowded supermarket, injuring 10 people.
The fact that my mother is aging isn’t my only concern with her driving: She also has Alzheimer’s and has forgotten, more than once, her destination and her way back home. Still, she won’t give up her car keys.
A 2008 study from the journal Neurology concluded that people with Alzheimer’s experience more accidents and also demonstrate poorer performance on road tests than those without it. My mom has continued to drive after her diagnosis. She is also among an estimated 90% of people 65 and older still licensed to drive.
Tougher, more uniform state laws are needed. Only six states have mandatory laws requiring physicians to report drivers with a disorder that could make driving dangerous. Twenty-two states have voluntary reporting laws. Seventeen states do not place any extra limits on older drivers, while others only require vision tests, or shorten the time period for license renewals. Louisiana, where my mother lives, only requires drivers over 70 to renew every four years in person.
In New York, the family of Michael Stoldt has begun an online petition asking state legislators to support a law making it mandatory that the elderly be retested annually on their driving ability. Stoldt, 29, was killed two years ago when a 79-year-old didn’t yield the right of way and turned left into Stoldt.
Insurance companies are trying to do their part. Many companies, such as State Farm, Allstate and Farmers, offer discounts for computer-based training and defensive driving courses to help lower rates for all drivers, including the elderly. Rewarding older drivers for updating their road skills and being accident-free is a good start.
Many seniors remain competent drivers and deserve their independence. But more uniform and regular testing of elderly drivers would protect not only the safety of others, but also people like my mom as well.