When to Take the Keys Away
With the average age in the United States increasing each year, and a larger population of individuals over the age of 65, our nation’s roadways have a rising number of elderly drivers. For the most part, this is not an issue, since older drivers may be more careful and have more experience behind the wheel.
But there is a tipping point: As people age, their reflexes decline, sight and hearing loss may occur, and they may suffer from dementia. The combination of any of these can be a recipe for disaster behind the wheel.
Preventing older drivers from being on the road when their skills decline can be challenging, however. Adopting a “one age fits all” policy would penalize those who are more than capable of driving safely in their later years. But as our nation ages, lawmakers, courts and others must decide how to keep our roads safe from those who should not be driving – and who to hold accountable for car accidents that happen when drivers should no longer be on the road.Should Doctors be Liable?
A 2010 accident in California illustrates the issue. An elderly woman drove her car into oncoming traffic, killing her 90-year-old passenger. The man’s family filed a wrongful death suit, but not against the 85-year-old driver. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the family filed a wrongful death claim against the woman’s doctor, who had been treating her for dementia.
In California, doctors are required to report patients who have dementia or disorders that may cause them to lose consciousness to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Doctors can use their judgment to determine whether a patient is too impaired to drive. The doctor saw the woman two weeks before the accident, and didn’t believe her dementia was a cause for concern. He didn’t report it.
The man’s family alleged that doctor was negligent for not reporting her dementia, but a jury disagreed. They found that the doctor was not responsible for the accident.Families Taking Responsibility
As the Los Angeles Times reported, reporting by doctors is relatively rare, in part because drivers may fail tests to renew their licenses or families may intervene first. As the nation grapples with how to best handle aging drivers, family involvement is often key to preventing drivers from being unsafe on the road.
To help ensure that an aging driver is safe, family members can ride with that person on several different occasions at different times of the day. When a driver shows signs of impairment, family members should work with that driver to create appropriate driving restrictions. This is a difficult conversation for many families to have, but it is important both for the safety of the senior and others on the road.