Age does not necessarily make one a bad driver, but statistics show that older drivers are involved in more fatal car crashes than any age group other than teens. How to keep unsafe drivers off the road without infringing on the rights of safe drivers is a question faced by both legislators and family members of older drivers.
There are no federal laws or laws in any state that set a maximum driving age. Instead, the focus is on driver’s license renewal requirements for older drivers.
In Texas, “Katie’s Law” went into effect on September 1, 2007, requiring drivers age 79 and older to renew their driver’s licenses in person and pass a vision test. In addition, if the examiner questions the driver’s ability, a written test or driving test may be required.
The law is named for Katie Bolka, a Dallas high school student who died in 2006 after she was hit by an elderly driver who ran a red light. The morning of the crash, the driver had backed across her lawn and over two curbs when leaving her driveway.
In-person driving tests result in fewer unsafe drivers, but the tests cannot catch every potentially risky driver. For instance, the state does not test for diminished cognitive awareness or physical capacity, conditions that are experienced by many older people and that can have a significant effect on driving ability.
Family members should be aware of when it is time for an older person’s driving to be restricted or to stop entirely. If a senior’s vision, hearing, motor skills or cognition are significantly diminished, then the person may not be safe to drive. If a family member suspects that a senior is no longer a safe driver, the best way to find out is to perform a casual “test” of one’s own, by asking for a ride somewhere. Important things to take note of are whether the older person drives at a reasonable speed, observes traffic signals, and is able to keep track of location and directions. If one balks at the idea of even taking such a ride, then it may be time for the person to stop driving altogether.
Talking with an elderly parent about not driving can be difficult, as elders may see the move as a threat to their independence. However, the conversation is best framed in terms of future transportation alternatives, with other options being offered. These options are important to avoid having seniors feel isolated, while still doing the right thing for everyone’s safety.
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