OLDER DRIVERS

One of life’s privileges is a license to drive. Many baby boomers have the problem of elder parents not wanting to stop driving. The main problem is most states, including New York, do not have mandatory retesting of elder drivers. Naturally, people in their 70’s & 80’s do not have the same reflexes as they once had. Older drivers cannot see, hear or react the same way. However, without mandatory retesting, no one knows if an elder person has the ability to keep driving.

In an article in The Journal News on August 7, 2014, the author discussed that older drivers do not want to give up their keys. The author relays the story of a person Marilyn, who suffered two strokes in April, 2012. As a result, she lost some movement on her left side. Luckily, she agreed to go through the Driver Evaluation Program at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains, New York. The evaluation found she was healthy enough to drive but needed a couple of modifications to her vehicle which included a spinner to help her make turns.

There are a growing number of older drivers on the road, 65 years old and older, that make up 25% of all licensed drivers in the United States by 2025. The author relays the case of a 97 year old John. The Mamaroneck man was recently driving to Stamford, Connecticut when he became disorientated and wound up at a toll plaza near the Massachusetts border, some 125 miles from home. A toll manager helped reunite John with his worried son.

Thirty states (not New York) have special licensing rules for older drivers. Some states require drivers after a certain age to renew their licenses more frequently or pass a new vision test. Others prohibit older drivers from renewing their licenses electronically or by mail. They must show up in person to renew their license because there is such diversity in older drivers’ abilities. Andrea Sullivan, Burke’s Outpatient Occupational Therapy Supervisor and Director of the Driver Evaluation Program states “it is really how someone is functioning in their home”. Physical declines in vision, hearing and reflexes can be easy to spot. However, cognitive deterioration may take more time to notice. Older people with persistent trouble of keeping track of medications and appointments should raise concern that the older person is no longer fit to drive.

The Burke Rehabilitation Hospital has a program that involves a skill evaluation in addition to a road test with a driving school. By having the older driver evaluated by an independent agency convinces the older driver it’s time to stop driving. It takes the burden off the children of older drivers from telling their parents that they are no longer capable of driving safely.

Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw, New York also offers driver assessment. They have specific tests to look at vision and reaction time and create standards that the senior driver must meet. It creates an independent evaluation of a senior driver. When my mom reached 82 – 83 years old, some 12 years ago, she kept having minor fender benders. She refused to stop driving. Finally, she hit the rear of another car so hard that her car was no longer capable of being driven. I kept the car in her parking space and she would often get in the car trying to start it and always called me to say her car would not start. I would tell her I would have it fixed and she would be satisfied. By keeping the car in her parking space and non operational, it kept her off the road and safe for her and other innocent drivers and she got used to using other means of transportation (the senior bus) to do her errands. Once she got used to using the senior bus, I had her car removed and she never drove again. It would have been a lot easier if back then they had the senior driver evaluation. All children of older drivers should have their parents driving ability evaluated by an independent hospital or agency.

If you or someone you know has been injured by an elder driver, call the law firm of Dominick J. Robustelli & Associates, PLLC at (914) 288-0800.