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When Should Seniors Stop Driving?

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When my dad was in his early 90s, my parents depended on Dad’s ability to drive. I worried that he might need to give up his license, but they lived in a 55+ community in a fairly rural area. The nearest grocery stores and restaurants were about five miles away. Because of this and fear of losing his independence, Dad kept driving far longer than he should have.

When should seniors stop driving? Seniors should consider surrendering their licenses to drive if they have:

  • certain medical conditions
  • vision changes and/or hearing loss that cannot be improved with aids or other devices
  • changes in driving behavior that raise red flags (driving too fast or too slow, pulling out in front of other cars, drifting into other lanes, etc)
  • an increase in traffic tickets or accidents
  • or if their loved ones are concerned about their ability to be safe on the road.

It is well known that elderly drivers pose a higher crash risk than their younger counterparts. Seniors have slower reaction times and often have problems with mobility, especially after age 80. While these factors can lead to impaired driving, if you add in one or more of the additional issues from the list above, the danger level increases for an elderly driver.

“In 2016, about 7,400 older adults (aged 65+) were killed and more than 290,000 were treated in emergency departments for motor vehicle crash injuries. This amounts to 20 older adults killed and 794 injured in crashes on average every day.”

~ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Getting elderly to stop driving is often difficult at best and is made harder because no U.S. state has a mandatory age at which a person must give up their license.

Part of the problem with elderly drivers is that often seniors may not realize they have gone through changes that are making them unsafe on the road (or they don’t want to admit it). They fear being stuck at home, losing their independence, and they often are reluctant to “put out” a loved one and ask for a ride.

Many individuals experience psychological and physiological changes as they age.  Over time, these changes may impair on’es ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. – brooklinema.gov

If this sounds like your elderly loved one, read on for some red flags that can tell you when should seniors stop driving and suggestions for getting them to hang up their keys.

Medical Conditions That Can Affect A Senior’s Driving Ability

There are certain medical conditions that can affect a senior’s driving ability. Health issues such as having had a stroke or being diagnosed with something such as Parkinson’s will reduce the senior’s mobility, while dementia or Alzheimer’s are going to cause impaired judgment.

Also, even seemingly minor issues like arthritis can pose a problem for an older driver. If the person’s neck is affected, they may not be able to turn around far enough to look over their shoulder when backing up or may have a hard time moving their legs to hit the brakes. For some physical issues, there are car aids that can make driving more comfortable for seniors, though.

Additionally, some medications can make a person dizzy or confused or could cause blurry vision. Even over the counter medications like sleep aids could impair a senior driver, especially if they are combined with certain prescription medicines. Talk to your parent’s pharmacist to find out if there are any drug interactions or side effects that could make their driving more risky (or you can talk to your own pharmacists if you know which prescriptions they are on).

Vision Or Hearing Loss Can Impact Elderly Drivers

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to learn that vision or hearing loss can impact elderly drivers and these issues become more common as we age. In fact, hearing loss affects about one third of adults over age 65. Because this loss happens gradually, elderly drivers often aren’t aware of how much their hearing has been compromised.

Hearing aids help, but not completely: for example, if the car window is down, the wind blowing into the car may mask sounds. Wherein younger drivers would be instantly alert if they heard squealing tires or a blaring car horn, a senior driver may not realize they are in danger.

Good vision is paramount to driving safely. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that, ” he prevalence of blindness and vision impairment increases rapidly with age among all racial and ethnic groups, particularly after age 75.” This is because our retinas aren’t capable of receiving as much light.

Additionally, seniors face age-related vision problems such as cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. These vision changes affect driving so much that 10 states and the District of Columbia require elderly drivers to pass a vision test before renewing their driver’s license.

Changes In Driving Behavior In Seniors

Another thing that can be a sign that it is time to give up their license is changes in driving behaviors in seniors.

I always watched for behavioral changes when I drove with my elderly father. After he turned 95, he occasionally forgot to put on his seat belt. He sometimes showed delayed response to light changes, especially if he was talking to me. He also began pulling out into traffic much more slowly and stopped driving at night on his own.

Since my dad had driven professionally his entire working career and had never had a ticket, these subtle changes worried me. They led to several conversations about it being time for him to consider surrendering his license.

Increases In Minor Accidents Or Traffic Tickets

Have you noticed increases in minor accidents or traffic tickets? When you visit your folks, it’s a good idea to check their car for recent damage. Small dents and minor damage could mean your senior parent is misjudging distances. For example, they may be clipping the mailbox or garage when pulling in or out.

Bigger damage probably means that your senior parent should stop driving. Have they sideswiped something? My father broke the side mirror on his car when he hit a curbside garbage can while trying to avoid an oncoming car. That alone didn’t mean he had to give up driving, but it sure raised a red flag.

Your Own Concerns About A Senior Parent’s Driving

After Mom passed away, my dad reluctantly moved to a senior independent apartment about five miles from me. Because I was off on Fridays, I spent the day with him – we went out for lunch, ran errands, and visited doctors.

Dad usually drove on those Fridays. He wanted to stay sharp with his driving and he also wanted to put the mileage on his car instead of mine (thanks, Dad!).

While he drove, I looked for certain things that would mean he should stop driving:

  • Was he easily distracted?
  • How quickly did he react to traffic light changes?
  • Was he comfortable behind the wheel or did he strain to see?
  • Did he notice animals, bike riders or pedestrians?
  • Was he tailgating or leaving too much space between cars?
  • Did he drive too slow or too fast?
  • Would he get lost if I didn’t give him directions back to his place?

“Driving can often be considered one of the last symbols of independence for older adults,” said Lakelyn Hogan, gerontologist and caregiver advocate at Home Instead Senior Care. “The keys to keeping older drivers safe and independent are to continually assess a loved one’s abilities, communicate concerns and plan ways to transition driving practices, if needed.” – Home Instead Senior Care

At What Age Do Seniors Have To Take A Driving Test?

If you are wondering at what age do seniors have to take a driving test – well, the answer is that the laws differ from state to state. I know – that’s not helpful.

Below is a chart with information taken from IIHS.org outlining at what age and in which state seniors are required to take a driving test. The table is broken up by each individual state in the USA.

State License Renewals Proof Of
Adequate Vision
Mail or Online
Renewal Permitted
AL Every 4 years No Online – every other renewal
AK Every 5 years 69 and older, every renewal 69 and older – not permitted
AZ 65 and older – every 5 years Every renewal No
AR 70 and older – every 4 – 8 years Every other renewal No
CA Every 5 years 70 and older, every renewal 70 and older – not permitted
CO Every 5 years Every renewal 66 and older – every other renewal
CT 65 and older – every 2 years No No
DC Every 8 years Every renewal 70 and older – not permitted
DE Every 8 years Every renewal No
FL 80 and older – every 6 years 80 and older, every renewal Every other renewal
GA Every 8 years Every renewal 64 and older – not permitted
HI 72 and older – every 2 years Every renewal Every 2 consecutive renewals but must appear at least every 16 years
IA 72 and older – every 2 years 70 and older, every renewal 70 and older – not permitted
ID 63 and older – every 4 years Every renewal 70 and older – not permitted
IL 81 to 86 – every 2 years
87 and older – every year
75 and older, every renewal Every other renewal
IN 75 to 84 – every 3 years
85 and older – every 2 years
75 and older, every renewal Every other renewal
KS 65 and older – every 4 years Every renewal No
KY Every 8 years No No
LA Every 6 years 70 and older, every renewal 70 and older – not permitted
MA Every 5 years 75 and older, every renewal 75 and older – not permitted
MD Every 8 years 40 and older, every renewal Every other renewal
ME 65 and older – every 4 years 62 and older, every renewal 62 and older – not permitted
MI Every 4 years When renewing in person Every other renewal
MN Every 4 years Every renewal No
MO 70 and older – every 3 years Every renewal No
MS Every 4 to 8 years No Every other renewal
MT 75 and older – every 4 years Every renewal Every other renewal
NC 66 and older – every 5 years Every renewal Every other renewal
ND 78 and older – every 4 years Every renewal 65 and older – not permitted
NE Every 5 years 72 and older, every renewal 72 and older – not permitted
NH Every 5 years Every renewal Every other renewal
NJ 70 and older – every 2 to 4 years Every 10 years By mail only unless new photo is required
NM 71 to 78 – every 4 years
79 and older – every year
75 and older, every renewal 75 and older – not permitted
NV 65 and older – every 4 years 71 and older, every renewal 65 and older – every other renewal
NY Every 8 years Every renewal No restrictions
OH Every 4 years Every renewal No
OK Every 4 years No No
OR Every 8 years 50 and older, every renewal No
PA 65 and older – every 2 to 4 years No No restrictions
RI 75 and older – every 2 years Every renewal Every other renewal
SC Every 8 years Every renewal No restrictions
SD Every 5 years 65 and older, every renewal Every other renewal
TN Every 8 years No No restrictions
TX 85 and older – every 2 years 79 and older, every renewal 79 and older – not permitted
UT Every 8 years 65 and older, every renewal Every other renewal
VA 75 and older – every 5 years 75 and older, every renewal 75 and older – not permitted
VT Every 2 to 4 years No By mail only unless new photo is required
WA Every 6 years Every renewal 70 and older – not permitted
WI Every 8 years Every renewal No
WV Every 8 years Every renewal Online – every other renewal
WY Every 5 years Every 10 years By mail – every other renewal

Convincing Elderly Parents To Stop Driving

Okay, I’ve been there, so I know how very difficult convincing elderly parents to stop driving can be. You can see it from their perspective – they won’t want to do it because they’ll be giving up much of their independence. On the other hand, you don’t want them to get into an accident and get hurt – or even more unthinkable – injure someone else.

If you are in this difficult position, here’s a CBS This Morning video that you can probably relate to:

If you have decide that it’s time to address the subject, AARP has a free online seminar that will help you assess your senior loved one’s driving ability, which is a good first step. This “We Need To Talk” resource also gives you some ideas for how to have this important discussion about convincing elderly parents to stop driving.

Additionally, here are some tips that can make it a little easier to have “the talk” with your parent:

  1. Plan out your approach. Talk to your parent about giving up their driver’s license when you are both calm. Do it during a quiet time of day, not when you’ll be rushing out the door. In other words don’t drop the bomb that they need to stop driving as you’re buttoning your coat and waving good-bye. Remember that it’s highly unlikely your parent will hand over the car keys after your first conversation. Treat this as a way to open the discussion.
  2. Speak with respect. Don’t wait until things have gotten so urgent that you feel like your parent has to surrender their license immediately. Keep in mind that yelling isn’t going to solve anything. No one wants to be bullied.
  3. Calmly ask questions to start the conversation. For example, you could ask, “Dad, how are you feeling about driving lately? Do you have any concerns?”
  4. Listen to those concerns and read between the lines. When I asked my father if he was worried about anything, he told me his driving was “fine.” He said he was glad, because if he couldn’t drive he would have to impose on me. He didn’t want to do that. I knew Dad well enough to know he really meant he didn’t want to give up his independence.
  5. Don’t patronize your parent with blanket reassurances. Saying, “things will be fine,” doesn’t help. Instead, work through their concerns with real solutions. Sometimes a pros and cons list can help them see that there are good things about giving up their license. An example could be saving on car insurance and vehicle maintenance. Also point out the cons. For example, an accident could be fatal to them or someone else. Knowing the cons can help them face reality.
  6. Investigate options. Will taking a senior driving course help? How about a new hearing aid or new prescription glasses? What if they stayed within a five-mile radius or gave up driving at night? Can they learn how to use a ridesharing service like Uber or Lyft? Do they have a friend who can drive them?
  7. If they are open to the idea of using a ride sharing service but are intimidated at the thought of it, you might try using Uber or Lyft to take your parent on a few errands or outings. It will be easier to have you with them to show how it’s done. Once they see that it is really simple to ride share, they may warm up to giving up their keys.
  8. Give them time to get used to the idea of stopping driving and let them adjust to something they don’t want to face. Waiting allows your parent to think things over. Remember that you might need to revisit the subject several times over a few months.
  9. Temporarily drop the subject if your parent gets angry. You aren’t getting through to them at that point anyhow. Wait a couple off weeks, then calmly bring up the subject again.

Can You Be Held Liable If Your Elderly Parent Has A Car Accident?

This is one thing that my sister and I worried about when Dad was still driving (mostly her). She was convinced that she and I would be sued right along with him if Dad had an accident.

So, can you be held liable if you know your parent shouldn’t be behind the wheel, but refuses to give up their keys? Probably not (however, I am not an attorney).

According to a blog article written by the law firm of Shollenberger, Januzzi and Wolfe, LLC, “In order for a car accident plaintiff to hold an adult child responsible for an accident caused by an elderly parent, it would have to be shown that there is some recognized legal duty the adult child had to prevent the parent from causing harm to others, either in general or specifically while driving.

Such legal duty is generally not currently recognized, though adult children—particularly those who have power of attorney—should consider that they have a moral obligation to do what they can to prevent an aging parent from getting behind the wheel when it becomes dangerous for them to do so. In some states, physicians do have a duty to report elderly drivers they feel should not be getting behind the wheel.”

*Note: we are not attorneys and this should not be construed as legal advice. You should consult with an attorney to get answers that are specific to your own situation.

What Is The Maximum Driving Age By State?

I was really surprised to find out that there is NO maximum driving age in any of the 50 Untied States (or it’s territories)! Given the dangers that a senior driver can pose, I would have thought each state would dictate at what ages should elderly stop driving.

Keep in mind, though, some states are more restrictive on their older drivers. For example, Illinois requires road testing and in-person renewals for drivers age 75 and older. Additionally, Illinois drivers who are age 87 and over must renew their driver’s license annually.

What States Retest Elderly Drivers?

It might help to know what states retest elderly drivers. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, the states that test senior drivers in some manner are:

  • AZ, CO, FL, GA, ME, MD, OR, SC, UT, VA – a vision test is required for license renewal
  • Washington, DC – requires a vision test, may also ask the senior to complete a reaction assessment in some cases
  • IL, NH – require a road test for license renewal

For more specific information, please refer back to the table in the section, At What Age Do Seniors Have To Take A Driving Test, earlier in this article.

Bottom Line Strategy – How To Get An Elderly Parent To Stop Driving

Note: If all else has failed and you are desperate to get your senior parent to stop driving, we still recommend giving them the respect they deserve before you try these last-ditch methods. This means that, as mentioned above, discuss your concerns with your parent – several times. Drive with them and point out the errors you see, the close calls they just missed, and their slow reaction times. Help them understand that they are endangering others as well as themselves.

If reasoning with them doesn’t work, there are some harsh but effective tactics for how to get an elderly parent to stop driving (but, be prepared for a fight):

  • If their state provides for this, you can ask their primary care doctor to submit paperwork to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles about your parent’s diminished capacity to drive. After reviewing the forms, the state may revoke your parent’s license outright or may order retesting or assessment of their driving ability.
  • Consult an elder law attorney with your parent to discuss the financial risks they are taking on if they continue to drive. Sometimes just knowing that their assets may be in jeopardy if they hurt someone in an accident can be enough to convince a senior to stop driving. In my Dad’s case, we talked about how a judge would view him if he was involved in an accident and ended up in court. He agreed the judge would likely be harder on him because of his age.
  • You can get a professional assessment of your parent’s driving ability through a Certified Driver Rehabilition Specialist (CDRS).  The CDRS website says, “A driver evaluation generally consists of a clinical assessment and a behind-the-wheel assessment. The evaluation process generally includes tests of physical function, vision, perception, attention, motor function, and reaction time, in addition to actual driving performance tests. Based on the evaluation results, the CDRS® or DRS will determine if any adaptive driving equipment is needed, whether the individual has the ability to drive independently or at all, and whether they require driver rehabilitation or training.” You should know that the CDRS won’t hesitate to recommend that someone stop driving if they are unsafe behind the wheel, but at the same time, the specialist will also tell you if it is still safe for your parent to drive – no matter what your wishes are in the matter.
  • Disable the car by taking out the distributor cap in an older, “classic” car or remove a couple of spark plug wires from a newer model car.
  • Physically take away your parent’s car keys (or “lose” them).
  • Sell the car outright. Take it to a car dealer that will give you cash on the spot (such as Car Max) or list it in an online marketplace.
  • Forget going through your parent’s physician – just report your parent to their state’s Department of Motor Vehicles yourself.

How To Report An Elderly Driver

If you have finally abandoned the notion that you will ever convince your senior loved one to stop driving and you feel that they are a significant risk to themselves and others, you can take the route of reporting them to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This should really be a last resort, though, and one that you need to consider thoroughly before taking action.

Before reporting them, I should point out that many DMVs now offer driver self-assessments and driver improvement courses. You can find information about these services on your state’s DMV website. It could be that having your parent complete one or both of these might be enough to calm your fears.

That said, if you still need to know how to report an elderly driver as an unsafe driver, you should start with the DMV in your parent’s state. You will need to file an unsafe driver report with their DMV and should be able to find the form or information on how to do this on the DMV’s website.

After you do so, a DMV representative will get in contact with your parent to request a medical evaluation. A driving test will likely also be required. Once these examinations have been completed, the person’s license could either be restricted or revoked altogether, depending on the test results.

One other thing to consider before reporting them – some states conceal the identity of the person who makes the report, but many do not. Even if your state does not, however, if you have taken the step of turning them in to the DMV, then your parent’s possible anger is still better than them causing an accident that could hurt (or kill) themselves or someone else.

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