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Asking Tough Questions Could Save an Older Driver’s Life

The crash statistics are alarming. Nearly 4,200 seniors age 70 or over died in automobile crashes nationwide in 2012, according to a report by transportation research group TRIP. The report also found that Florida leads the nation in the number of senior citizens killed in traffic accidents.

As greater numbers of retirees move into Florida and as the existing population continues to age, each of us has a responsibility to our loved one to determine whether he or she is safe behind the wheel.  Diminished eyesight, slower reaction times, changes in cognitive ability, and the effects of medication may contribute to making driving more difficult and dangerous.

Surrendering driving privileges: When to have the talk

How should family members and caregivers approach an older driver who refuses to give up the independence and self-reliance that driving gives them?

As we celebrate National Elder Law Month and Older Americans Month during the month of May, we are mindful of those who raised, guided, and inspired us.  In addition to honoring their contributions to our society, we have a responsibility to protect them from harm – which may necessitate some tough choices as it relates to driving.

Clues to look for, questions to ask

According to, the risk of accidents increases after age 75 because motorists may have health conditions or take medications that negatively affect their driving abilities. The website recommends that family members or caregivers talk with an older driver if the answer is “yes” to any of the following questions:
·         Does he or she get lost on routes that should be familiar?
·         Have you noticed new dents, scratches, or other damage to his or her vehicle?
·         Has he or she been warned or ticketed by a police officer for poor driving?
·         Has he or she experienced a close call or crash recently?
·         Has a doctor advised him or her to limit or stop driving for health reasons?
·         Is he or she overwhelmed by road signs, signals, markings, or other things while driving?
·         Does he or she take any medication that might affect the ability to drive safely?
·         Does he or she stop inappropriately or drive too slowly, preventing the safe flow of traffic?
·         Does he or she suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, glaucoma, cataracts, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, or another condition that may affect driving skills?

Resources for advisors, family members, and caregivers

We recommend that our clients approach the discussion with the older driver delicately.  Be prepared to offer constructive observations and alternative transportation ideas.

·         Suggest the senior take advantage of a discount on his or her auto insurance by taking a safe driving course, such as the Smart Driver Course through AARP.

·         For family members and seniors who want to learn more about local organizations that can provide education and guidance, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration offers a directory of resources for seniors called Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully.

·         If the senior driver is clearly a danger but unwilling to surrender his/her driving privileges, it may require anonymous reporting. The GrandDriver program through the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles offers a confidential reporting system for anyone who believes an older driver’s medical condition renders them unsafe to be on the road.  Reports are reviewed by the agency’s medical specialists and forwarded for investigation.

While confronting the senior may seem contrary to safeguarding his or her right to age with dignity, ask yourself, “Would we put our child or grandchild in the car with this family member?”  

Solutions for the future: Self-driving cars for Florida’s aging seniors is no longer a pipe dream

As estate planning practitioners, our clients include a broad range of age groups requiring different planning solutions. While the guidance we offer families today in terms of older drivers will typically focus on the methods discussed above, we continually advance our knowledge of strategies, trends, and solutions on the horizon. Self-driving cars is one of those trends.

With the Governor’s signing of HB 7027 on April 4, 2016, Florida will join several other states in putting automated vehicles (self-driving cars) on the road. The new law goes into effect on July 1.

According to Florida Automated Vehicles, a website hosted by the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT), autonomous (self-driving) vehicles restore mobility for seniors and offer a safe transportation alternative. DOT predicts that the new driverless technology will also reshape the design of continuing care retirement communities through co-op transportation that eliminates the need for individually-owned cars and garages.

Last month, the Huffington Post noted, “With driverless cars, elderly drivers do not have to make a choice and there is no ageist stigma attached to owning one of these vehicles. It leaves the elderly driver’s dignity intact.”

Although full implementation of driverless vehicles in Florida is 15-20 years down the road, certain segments of the baby boomer generation would benefit.  So why not begin planning for that option now?

Whatever the solution may be, the process begins with observant family members asking the right questions, while respecting their loved one’s desire for self-reliance.