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Elderly Drivers: Taking the Keys?

We look at the issue of aging drivers — and when it’s time to quit. Read what the NTSB chair had to say during the show.

Harriet Butler, 99, left, and her daughter Marcia Savarese, 73, at their home in Vienna, Va., Nov. 8, 2010. The National Transportation Safety Board held a recent forum to understand the safety risks that older drivers face. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Americans are getting older, which means American drivers are getting older. The number of seniors on the road will double in the next 20 years to 1-in-5, maybe 1-in-4, or more, depending where you live. 

Many 65-plus drivers are excellent – experienced, careful, keen. Others are not. 

The headlines of elderly drivers plowing through Wal-Mart windows, mowing down innocents, are unnerving. So is the job of asking older relatives if it’s time to stop. 

But giving up the keys can look like a prison sentence in this country. We look at how to handle America’s aging drivers.

-Tom Ashbrook


Deborah Hersman, chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. She convened the NTSB’s forum on safety, mobility and aging drivers last week. Read a transcript of her interview with On Point.

Sandra Rosenbloom, professor of planning and gerontology at the University of Arizona. She’s an expert on the societal impacts of aging populations and their travel needs. She was a panelist at the NTSB forum last week on aging drivers.

Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of the MIT AgeLab, which researches how the convergence of baby boomer expectations and technology will drive change in public policy and business. He was a panelist at the NTSB forum last week on aging drivers.

State Senator Brian Joyce (D-MA). He’s been pushing for greater testing for elderly drivers.

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  • Beverly ~  Iowa

    It’s inevitable that some elderly people have problems with judgement, perception, & reflexes, among other things. These are facts of life, & should be treated as such.

    When a car crashes through a restaurant, or a store in a shopping mall, there’s usually an elderly person at the wheel, saying that they thought they were slamming on the brakes, when they were really “flooring it”. Older people, through no fault of their own, also seem to be more prone to running into cyclists, & pedestrians. There’s also the threat of heart attacks & strokes while driving, resulting in cars going out of control, & killing innocent people.

    I know a lady who very recently, suddenly lost her sight. She can only distinguish between light & darkness. She is legally blind. As much as I’ve tried to dissuade her, she continues to drive! When she lost her sight, she, very understandably, was extremely depressed, & is still in denial. There are many family members nearby, who are more than willing to drive her wherever she wants to go, whenever she wants to go there. She always refuses help, & continues to drive. How many others are doing the same thing, putting innocent lives at risk? We’ll never know.

    Personally, I would like to have manditory eye exams, & COMPLETE physicals every 6 months, for everyone over 55 years old, who wants to drive. That isn’t discrimination, just common sense.

  • Mark

    Beverly – Every six months? After 55? That is absolutely discrimination. Stop trying to hide your ageism behind “common sense.” Now, talk to me about every two years after 65 and you may have something.

  • Zeno

    “Personally, I would like to have manditory eye exams, & COMPLETE physicals every 6 months, for everyone over 55 years old, who wants to drive. That isn’t discrimination, just common sense.” – Beverly

    Well there is common sense and then there is statistical reality, lets start the discussion from there and not some arbitrary sensation that the media gives us. – Older drivers vs younger ones: http://www.insurance.com/auto-insurance/safety/teens-or-seniors-who-are-our-worst-drivers.aspx

    “Less than one percent of people over 65 die as a result of motor vehicle accidents. On the other hand, car crashes are the major cause of death for the age group 15–20. Males in this group are twice as likely as females to die in a car crash.

    The young and the lead-footed are truly scary. Their risk of crash per mile is 4 times higher than in older age groups. As the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety puts it, “teenage drivers represent a major hazard.” : http://www.allcountries.org/uscensus/1045_age_of_driver_and_number_in.html

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Beverly: I’m over 55 (59) and while my eyesight isn’t as good as it was when I was 20, it’s corrected with glasses and I’m quite a good driver. I think you’re shooting a bit low with your mandatory test.

    I know 70 year olds who drive quite well, better in fact than many young people I know who while they have perfect vision have little experience behind the wheel.

    I do agree, at some point we need to get drivers off the road who are losing peripheral vision, reaction time and coordination but these days the use of a cell phone or GPS can also affect those things, maybe more than an aging body. You don’t find many older folks using tools like these when they drive, mostly younger folks who, as we know can multitask and are immortal.

    A few weeks ago a man in his 70s was driving his pickup truck approaching the center of our small town. He was driving the speed limit. An impatient 24 year old guy with his girlfriend in his car who was no doubt tailgating attempted to pass just as the older guy, who had his left turn signal on slowed and made a left turn. The passing car hit the truck hard and both the passing car’s driver and his passenger, not wearing seat belts were ejected. The truck ran over the driver killing him. The passenger was critically injured. The 70 year old driver of the pickup truck was wearing his seat belt and walked away from the accident. The accident was witnessed by a following car and the (young) passing driver was completely at fault.

    I have a 95 year old mother who drove until she was 90. While I think she pushed it a few years too far she did pass her yearly driving test and each time I visited her during that time I let her drive so I could evaluate her driving. She wasn’t great in the last few years she was driving but I’d say a person texting is more dangerous. She has a helper who drives for her now.

    My father, who has been gone for a while was a perfect example of the focus of this hour’s OnPoint: He was a lousy driver before he got old and aging made him worse. He never had an accident but he came close so many times that he should have had his license taken away in his last years. My relationship with him wasn’t one in which I could gently suggest letting my mother drive let alone him relinquishing his license. Had he lived another few years things would have become extremely difficult for all of us although I’d like to think we could have “grounded” him before people got killed.

    Warren, Connecticut

  • Steve V

    I’m much more concerned with drivers distracted with cell phones, and those driving while impaired (drunk), that I am the elderly. On a regular basis I observe operation I would describe as “erratic”, but seldom by older drivers. I’d much rather share the highway with an older more cautious and experienced driver than some 17 year old (or adult for that matter)talking on a cell phone.

    SteveV in Vermont

  • Michael

    “Elderly Drivers: Taking the Keys?”

    Yea right, they try talking about this in Mass. and it was shot down in an instance, this elderly drivers vote more than the rest of the population and would never agree to such nor would an politician do anything about it.

  • Megan

    My 93 year old grandmother had her license revoked after several minor traffic incidents. She was not a good driver for about the last 25 years and all members of my family refused to ride with her. However, her ability to drive afforded her a much needed desire for independence in her advanced age. She still laments losing her license (and of course blames the test/administrator instead of the driver) but I feel the community (and she) is safer now. She lives in a retirement community which provides a bus service but I do not believe she rides it– she still needs her “freedom”….I think she now either rides with friends or calls a taxi.

  • yar

    I tell my kids to drive like every intersection has their 87 year old great aunt driving through it. Yes, it is a problem, but in the scale of driving problems it is several orders of magnitude less than many others. Distracted driving and exhausted and impaired drivers are more lethal. Are we willing to focus on the elderly because; it’s not us, yet?
    The elderly tend to have more fender benders and fewer fatal accidents, and they tend to drive fewer miles. They have a better driving record than our youth. You can spend an hour ranting about the elderly, or just maybe we can focus on why our country is so dependent on the automobile. Good reliable public transportation will save more than lives, why shouldn’t we focus on that. Why do we allow the drunk to keep their car after they commit a crime with it? Why do we require insurance on the car instead of the driver?
    Why do we have cheep fuel, and a huge deficit from war to keep access to oil?
    Is this hour wasted on contempt for elderly drivers, or is it looking at solutions for all of us.
    The American dream of two (or more) cars and a suburban home is turning onto a nightmare of slavery and poverty for many in this country, yes, we should look at elderly drivers, but in the scope of the big picture.
    As for driving, are you doing the best you can do?
    If everyone does their best, then maybe the mistakes of the elderly can be compensated for by the rest of us.

    52 in Somerset, KY

  • Liz

    Don’t assume that when you take away a person’s car/license, they will be upset but will “get over it.” This can often precipitate a crisis, as it did in our case.
    My father was forgetful but his wife kept him on track until she passed away suddenly. His license was due for renewal two days after the funeral. We did not know what to do. When it lapsed he continued to drive anyway. Since he rarely went more than a few miles from home and was in decent health, it was an incredibly difficult decision. And like many, I actually had no legal authority to do anything.
    I acted out of fear, frankly, that I would be blamed for an injury or death if I failed to act.
    When we removed the car, he honestly believed that he’d starve to death, despite our assurances. I lived in another state, and moving in with him or vice-versa was out of the question.
    The shock of his wife’s death, and finding himself abruptly stranded, was emotionally too much. He took it upon himself to make dozens of phone calls. Long story short, he caught the attention of “senior services” who had him committed to a nursing home and shut his family out of his affairs. His health went downhill rapidly after that. I felt I had betrayed him.

    There has to be a better solution than simply taking away a person’s license. Maybe a collision-avoidance system for anyone on Medicare? The technology does exist.

    Let’s stop this senior-hysteria and remember that we are ALL potentially a danger on the roads.

  • elis

    As a bike rider, pedestrian and driver in my early 60′s, I am very aware of how my vision isn’t what it once was after dark and at dusk. I take precautions, but what really amazes me is how young people will ride bikes dressed in black with no lights.
    The same with black dressed jaywalkers. Add rain to the mix and it is very dangerous.

    I understand, having been so young so recently (yes! time moves so fast) that young people don’t understand about the loss of night vision in the not so old. But they are putting their lives on the line by doing dangerous and illegal things.

    Recently an elderly man meaning to put on the brakes, pressed the gas pedal in my neighborhood. He was surprised by a 22 year old bike rider illegally running a red light. Fault on both sides. No real injuries.

    But this is a complex problem, one that those at all age groups need to be part of fixing in order to be safe.

    And as far as the very elderly, yes, there are those who can’t self regulate. They need the keys taken away.

  • Adam

    I think the problem is very easy to manage. Im sure that there is a statistical jump in the frequency of traffic accidents by the elderly at a certain age. Let’s say 75. Elderly drivers beyond that age should have to have mandatory eyesight and reaction time evaluations every 2 years. I wouldn’t suggest they have to take their entire road-test over again because that’s a bit extreme and honestly most regular people would probably fail if they had to take a road test tomorrow.

    I think every 2 years is a reasonable amount of time.

  • Beverly

    Sorry. I didn’t mean to be agist, & I would much rather be driven by an older, more cautious person than a younger, reckless one. There are many more accidents caused by younger, distracted drivers, who think they are impervious to all harm.

    The accidents I’ve heard about, which were caused by elderly drivers, are relatively rare, & those drivers have always been over 80. My thinking was that if problems were detected in their earliest stages, they might be treated, or corrected, before becoming insurmountable, & dangerous. Maybe 55 is too young to start. I’m probably overreacting because of the legally-blind lady I know, who is still driving. She’s only 59.

    I also know drivers in their 80s, who are very alert, & are probably healthier than I am. They might also be better drivers than I am. Since we’re all so different, & age at different rates, we can’t really generalize, but I do think that elderly drivers should be checked regularly, to make sure they’re fit to drive safely, for all concerned.

    What’s the answer?

  • Ellen Dibble in Northampton, MA

    A lot of problems could be solved by having cars that go about 10 miles an hour. I’m thinking of the kind that travel in the bicycle lane but get you from here to there, with an umbrella overhead, a rumble seat out back for groceries or “guests,” and enough of an engine (probably rechargeable) to get you up a hill.

    This would help communities redesign themselves more sustainably. Both the seniors, to begin with, those who are no longer up for 65 miles an hour, and for those who are younger but hoping to save the planet.

  • David Minard

    My 89-year old father, a fanatic lover of cars his whole life, had just purchased a new Toyota when the news broke about a tragedy in California in which ten people were killed by an elderly driver. Dad put the keys on his bureau and never drove again.

  • Kyle

    EVERYONE, not just the elderly, should have renewed testing every so often. Maybe every 10 years? This would require people to keep up to date on driving safely, and using the proper driving laws.

    I’m from Burlington VT

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    All I ask is that the older drivers stay out of the left lane. Don’t sit there with a line of twenty cars behind you while going five miles an hour under the speed limit. Just get over.

    Springdale, AR

  • John from Plainville MA

    My great grandmother drover her car to the grocery store, the hairdresser, to Church, not to mention the liquor store now and again! She lived to be 106 and came to my father with her keys one day when she was 99. Fortunately for our family and the community, she was responsible and savvy enough to know when it was time for her to get out of the car.

    It can not be overstated enough how critical her mobility to such a late age was for her independence, mental health, and quality of life. Also-it ws funny to hear the stories from her about going to the DMV to get her license renewed in the 1990′s when her DOB was 11/25/96–only the ’96 referred to 1896!

  • Sam Osborne

    The nation is getting older and needs to take the keys out of cars and move on into a better future by electrified high speed and light rail. In this dying age of consumerism—that stuffs the pockets of moneychangers with loot and landfills with junk— is grinding to a cancerous halt.

    We cannot sustain an economy based upon buying junk on credit-card debt that has been produced in low standard of living countries and acquired in box stores, clerked by poorly paid workers, and with the stuff soon be hauled off to landfills to make room for more of the consumption of the planet and marginalization of people lives.

    The nation needs to enter a new era of craft and agrarian sustenance that is made possible by building a new energy grid that accommodates so much production of electricity from dispersed generation from renewable forces that it can be licensed for free individual and business use.

    The wind, sun and gravity belong to all of us, transports itself for free, leaves no waste and unlike oil, it does not have to be found, fought over, mined, transported, refined, marketed, distributed, sold, consumed and its was disposed of or ignored. Real free enterprise will give people power to greenhouse their own food, build and sell or trade what they like and be free of the rationing of opportunity by the moneychangers and entangling dependence on the world oil empire.

  • tony philpin

    I served as a municipal police officer in greater Hartford, CT, and had occasion to seize the driver’s licenses of several elderly drivers who displayed driving deficiencies, often in construction zones where traffic might be diverted or segregated by cones or barriers.

    A report with the seized driver’s license was sent to the state DMV. The licenses could be retrieved by the owner pending a satisfactory driving test at the motor vehicle department.

    Without exception, my actions were appreciated by the families of the elderly drivers who acknowledged known driving deficiencies but had not the courage or conviction to take the license from their family member.

    Hartford, CT

  • John Thomas

    One way to improve safety with elderly drivers (as well as ALL drivers) is to calm traffic by enforcing maximum speed laws and introducing traffic calming devices. Speed cameras are a new means of achieving this goal without taxing law enforcement agencies. Traffic calming would also encourage elderly to get out of their cars and walk more.

  • http://notyet Charles A. Bowsher

    “…they might avoid driving places they are uncomfortable with”. Listen to your own words. That is a pretty glaring road sign.

    We had to “take away” my 82 year old father’s keys for two reasons. I rode with him several times, and followed him several times to see how he was driving because he admitted to us that he had gotten lost more than once driving between my mother’s nursing home and their home. I then spoke to my siblings and we decided it was time for him to stop. Rather than confront it directly, we “lost” his keys and made ourselves totally available to him to take him anywhere he wished. It turns out he had mild dementia and we made the decision in time. It was unpleasant to become “the parent” but necessary.

    You are possibly libel if you have suspicion about an older drivers safety and fail to act.

    Driving is a privelege, not a right.

  • Josh

    I listen to the broadcast online.

    Since moving to Florida in June, I have seen 3 MAJOR traffic accidents(multiple cars, and multiple ambulances to transport people to the hospital).
    Every one of these accidents were the fault of an elderly driver. Driver’s licenses require notations for vision impairments or medical conditions, the medications(and their side effects) should also be considered in license issue.
    I would suggest that older drivers(55+) should be required to take a vision and reflex test annually. We can make the tests free, and only carry a consequence after a failure that is confirmed by a second test.

  • John

    It is too bad that we created such a car dependent population as it is unsustainable as the US ages.

  • Ellen Dibble in Northampton, MA

    Deborah Hersman’s agency maybe knows what my ophthalmologist has already come up with as a solution. Last time I went for a checkup I pointed out I had lost my glasses he had prescribed (almost immediately; since I don’t wear them, I don’t stay connected to them). And I wasn’t about to buy another $200 pair of glasses, again never use them, again lose them. I would like to be able to drive in an emergency, but am not likely to do so in any say five-year span.
    Fine, he says, your eyes are plenty good for driving on an ad hoc basis. If you get a car and make driving a part of your life, then re-fill that prescription.
    I am thinking in an emergency I wouldn’t wait for permission from my ophthalmologist, but a place where I’m renting a car from would, and the license renewal place does test my eyes. This is Massachusetts.
    So I buy $200 glasses just for that test. I need the license for buying allergy medication and so on (makings for crystal meth, you know).

  • Sam Wilson

    A lot of the pedestrian and bikers in Boston think that they automatically have the right of way, regardless of the signal or traffic in motion.

    The arrogance of “Right of Way” (i.e. under unlawful circumstances) by the pedestrians and bikers have cost them dear, still no.

    Once a biker on a dark winter evening tried to pass me from the right even though I had my right hand side signal/blinker turned on for more than 1 minute.

    Thank goodness he was spared and I was spared.

  • http://notyet Charles A. Bowsher

    To anyone who is or will face this decision I would remind you it is not all about your loved ones safety or feelings. The decision should also weigh (heavily I believe) the safety of others. Be strong, and good luck!

  • Voytek

    I have a different approach to all of this. We are quickly building autonomous car technology that can help with this problem. Several years ago DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) sponsored the DARPA Grand Challenge, which was an autonomous vehicle challenge, once in a desert and a second time in cities. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DARPA_Grand_Challenge)
    Several companies have now spun off divisions and to commercialize this technology. One of them is Google, which has had its cars drive 140,000 miles on city streets. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_car also http://www.botjunkie.com/2010/10/12/googles-autonomous-car-takes-to-the-streets/)

    I am only in my late 20s and enjoy driving, but I would happily give my keys away to a robot car. There would not longer be such a thing as “drunk driver,” you could sleep in your car, you could visit friends and family who live several hours away while you read a book or do some work on your laptop. I hope this technology can be purchased soon so that I can give my parents such cars as well.

  • David – Greenville, SC

    I think we need an intelligent discussion about driving and driving safety.

    I agree with Beverly, testing every 6 months is fantastic! However, I think this should be enforced for ALL drivers of ALL ages.

    The biggest problem I find while driving is drivers who regularly ignore traffic laws and safe driving practices. Just the other day, I was at a four way start and watched a soccer mom pull up to the stop sign and continue her right turn in front of me cutting me off. I also just had someone who clearly ran a red light making a turn in front of me while I clearly had the right of way.

    I don’t think we have enough information about the effects of aging on driving. I think the real issue again is just bad driving.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Traffic calming? Try traffic enraging. Speed bumps, slalom courses, and cameras only make traffic worse. We need to make the roads more efficient. The goal is to get drivers from A to B as rapidly as possible.

    Besides which, those cameras are a violation of basic human rights. A machine has no business judging what I do. That’s the proper job of another qualified human being.

  • Sandra

    This question would be less difficult if there were better options for alternative transportation. Giving up driving is so frightening for many drivers because they feel they will be so isolated. But this need not be the case. Public transportation and services designed with elders in mind can make it possible for them to go where they want to. And actually, everyone would benefit from improved public transportation.

  • Cynthia

    The return of buses – public transportation – would ease the difficult conversation with family members in suburban areas. What happened to the bus on Route 9 (west-bound)in past years that transported many to the shopping areas in Natick/Framingham? Local transportation in Towns to grocery/centers/main doctor office buildings would help as well. My 94 Grandmother in rural Michigan has agreement with sons: when you say I am dangerous, I will give up. This means that she will have to move closer to family members but it also means that she will be in proximity to people who will care for her.

  • tony philpin

    Today’s News: Courtesy of NBC TV 30 affiliate in West Hartford, CT.

    A 73-year-old New Britain man is dead after he was struck by an SUV at the Bristol ShopRite on Route 6.
    The victim of has been identified as Angelo MacCarone Police said he was pushing a shopping cart in the parking lot of the Shop Rite Plaza when he was hit by the car driven by 75-year-old Bristol resident.
    MacCarone died after being pinned under the vehicle, which police said was moving slowly at the time of the accident.
    No charges have been filed but the investigation is continuing.


  • Philip Hurzeler

    We have a glaring problem with headlights caused by failure of federal regulators (the ones who mandate safety glass in cars). This hazard could be prevented by mounting all headlights at the same height off the road, but SUV’s and light trucks have them higher. The elderly especially, are susceptible to glare from headlights in rearview and side mirrors, as well as oncoming traffic.

    There is also a moral hazard: SUV drivers enjoy the power of having lowly cars move out of their way at night.

  • Victoria

    Safety is the key issue with older drivers.

    My father is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, he is in denial about this (at 65 years old) and we are working him out of the car this year, which is difficult in a rural community without other transportation options.

    Most likely, he is not the only one with undiagnosed Alzheimer’s on the road.

    Boston, Ma

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Listen to this legislator from Massachusetts. He’s expressing the view held by some in government that we can be known by statistics, not individually.

    Springdale, AR

  • http://WNPR.org Jen

    From Driver’s Ed 101, driving is a privilege, not a right. Someone said that we all need to plan to retire from driving someday, just as many of us do from work. Wake up America, we will all get old, and you don’t have the right to put anyone at risk.

  • David Henry

    I think ALL drivers should have to retake the road test every 10 years. As a cyclist I see way to many drivers who don’t know the basic rules of the road. My favorite is when drivers lean out the window and yell at me to ride on the sidewalk. I also saw a woman making a left turn who didn’t know she had to yield to oncoming traffic. – New York, NY

  • Pamela Harvey

    A very useful article Appeared in the November 3rd edition of JAMA (Journal of the Medical Association) which begins with a doctor’s quote: ”

    has cancer than tell him he should
    no longer drive. At least with a cancer
    diagnosis there is hope.” Joanne G.
    Schwartzberg, MD, director of Aging
    and Community Health at the American
    Medical Association (AMA), in Chicago,
    was not surprised to hear that remark
    from a physician during an AMA
    training session on identifying older patients
    with driving impairments.

    The article Older Patients: Safte Behind the Wheel” details resources for assessment, including some inoffice assessments “primary care physicians can use to
    screen elderly patients for problems in cognition,
    vision, and motor/somatosensory
    functions that may affect driving. Called
    Assessment of Driving-Related Skills
    (ADReS), the test battery is designed to
    take about 10 minutes to administer during
    a separate office visit. ADReS uses a
    Snellen chart to measure a patient’s far visual
    acuity and confrontation testing to
    assess visual fields. Thetrail-making test,
    part B, evaluates working memory,visual
    processing, visuospatial skills, selective
    and divided attention, and psychomotor
    coordination,andthe clock-drawing test
    assesses long- and short-term memory,
    visual perception, abstract thinking, and
    executiveskills.Therapid-pace walk provides
    a measure of lower limb strength,
    endurance,range of motion,and balance.”

    Slomski, A. Older Patients: Safe Behind the Wheel?November 3, 2010—Vol 304, No. 17

    Boston, MA

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    There are a raft of sobriety tests that police in my state use to assess driving ability. The 9-step walk-and-turn, the one-legged stand, and saying the alphabet backwards without singing (something like that). When I transcribe court cases I test these out, and I can never pass. Not at 50, not at 60. I suppose jurors do the same. Nope, nobody is sober.
    Supposedly these tests are excruciatingly carefully designed by scientists to test the EXACT skills needed to drive safely. Multitasking, for example: You have to listen to instructions, use your head and your body, wait, obey. etc.
    You could test a person every few years and see how they do.

  • Martin Voelker

    I drove from Colorado to Boston this summer. I was often stuck behind geezers blocking both lanes driving side by side at exactly speed limit.
    Or they would overtake at a minimally faster speed, taking 4 minutes to pass.
    This kind of behavior leads to accidents.

  • Gus

    My 83-year-old dad needs to stop driving. He hits traffic cones, changes lanes without signaling, and doesn’t hear horns honking at him. He gave up the keys, but then changed his mind and took them back when his 50-year-old son told him he had the right to keep driving if he wished. The son told me, “He can drive off a cliff if he wants to.” Thank goodness Dad is moving to a new state soon and will have to undergo a drive test. I’m in the KUNI (northern Iowa) listening area.

  • Ivan Goloub

    I think the nationwide policy to pass one test (often on a closed course) and never have to take another re-certification for the life of the privilege to drive is the core of the problem. I think the rules around getting a license in the first place needs to be scaled up and made much more difficult and perhaps retesting every 10 years for everyone wouldn’t hurt, either.

  • Christopher M.

    Pardon me if someone above mentioned this but , at least for a moment, we should consider car driving as a historical phenomenon. Whether we have the right to drive, or should drive, are questions debated within the this phenomenological contexualization: regularly driving an automobile has only become “normal” over the last 100 years while certain (in)abilities have always been linked to aging in human beings. We should consider: where do points of compatibility exist (just because someone is 85 doesn’t mean they CAN’T drive) and where are there points that obviously conflict (i.e., the woman who mentioned her “legally blind” neighbor who continues to drive).

    Interesting discussion.

  • Peter

    Driving may be a privilege but we designed a transportation system that makes it a necessity. I find politicians who advocate action against the elderly to be hypocrites. We kill 40000 people a year in road accidents and have come to accept this number as an acceptable loss. We can’t even pass a law to restrict cellphone use while driving.

  • Tom Destry

    Reaction time is not just an issue for the aging. Here’s a technical solution to aging drivers that would also screen out some alcoholics and people with drug issues (including prescription issues): At a random moment when they are looking into the viewer to check vision, a red light comes on. They have to then slap a “Family Feud” style button and, if they can’t do it quickly enough (maybe after two or three tries), they have to take a road test.

  • http://WBUR Mary

    From Boston,

    I had dinner with friends and they mentioned “dropping a dime” on her elderly father in Virginia because he was a “dangerous driver”. The state required medical forms to prove that he was able to drive. So he gave up driving and her mother took over. Now she’s planning to do the same for the mother. Is it possible to do that in Massachusetts or New Hampshire?

  • http://none david knopf

    from Brockton, MA.

    I took part in the aging driver study at MIT.

    Can you talk about what you have found so far?

  • claudette beit-aharon

    What about Mr. Magoo?

  • Ellen Dibble in Northampton, MA

    It looks like my mother is going to miss Thanksgiving this year because her eyesight is too far gone. Her seven children are doing the multiple-festivities thing, driving from one child to another, to inlaws, to offspring. There is nobody to pick her up. The distances being driven are too long, probably, for her, um, stamina. Well, I’ve missed Thanksgiving for about 40 years, so — so I feel real bad for her.

  • http://notyet Charles A. Bowsher

    Greg @ 10:22 you said-
    “Besides which, those cameras are a violation of basic human rights. A machine has no business judging what I do. That’s the proper job of another qualified human being.”
    Posted by Greg Camp, on November 17th, 2010 at 10:22 AM

    It is not a violation of basic human rights. A policeman uses a radar gun to detect your speed. Cameras at intersections record facts which are then applied or judged by a human.

    My suggestion is chill out and slow down. As a former school bus driver on the road six hours plus per day I observed tens of thousands of dangerous situations and the vast majority were caused by impatience, not slowness.

  • David Henry

    The answer is building neighborhoods which are closer together and can be serviced by street cars. We can infill our suburbs and make communities that work alot better for everyone and will save us a ton of money by not buying oil from Saudia Arabia.

  • Angela (Lexington, KY)

    My boyfriend’s grandparents were killed last year when his 86 year-old grandfather pulled out in front of a semi-truck. Both were killed upon impact.

    They lived in a very rural community, with nothing but their church within walking distance. Even though apparently there had been some worrisome incidences before, nobody among family and friends had the courage to suggest they not drive anymore, since it would have meant complete loss of their independence.

    Having some kind of system of evaluating drivers’ physical and cognitive in place would help both elderly drivers and their families evaluate their driving skills and would probably safe lives. But as other people have said on the show, people will need alternative means of transportation, so that giving up their driver’s license doesn’t mean giving up their independence and social life.

  • http://www.dovetailresolutions.com Jane Beddall

    Your guest just mentioned the negative impact of an adult child saying pass the peas and hand over the keys. Choosing the option of saying nothing isn’t good either. These conversations are TOUGH! An elder mediator can help. Our education and experience is focused on helping families with challenging conversations with and about aging loved ones.

    New Haven, CT

  • Melissa

    Tom, Google is testing self-driving cars right now. And DARPA (military research funding) has been sponsoring contests for self-driving cars for some time. It’s definitely in the works. Also, as someone who rides a bicycle to commute, I’ve often felt, with as poorly as people drive, that it would be so much safer to ride on roads where I knew cars were driving themselves and not being driven by people.

  • http://www.adotintimephotography.com Megan

    I think there needs to be some sort of hotline to easily connect people on the road with local law enforcement, to report any potentially hazardous driving. On a recent trip out of state I was passing a semi when someone came speeding up and got so close to me I could hardly see any of his car in the mirrors of my SUV. I slowed down to try to get him to back off which he basically refused to do. When I finally passed the semi he tried to run me off the road.
    I got his licensplate but had the hardest time trying to get hold of local law enforcement when I was not sure who I should call.

  • Katherine

    In my senior year of high school, I was sitting in my parked car that was parallel parked when my car was sideswiped by an elderly driver. I got out of the car to check on the damage, and the condition of the other driver–she emerged from the car in full habit! While the nun was very nice, she seemed confused. She asked me what happened, and when I told her that she had hit me and that I had been parked, she replied: “Well. I’ve never hit anything that was parked before!”

    The police arrived a few minutes later and called her convent, who said they had been planning to take away her license later that month, but would take it away immediately. Even though we were both okay, I do wish that they had taken her license away before that happened. Obviously–based on her comments alone–she’d already had several accidents. Thankfully, she was okay.

  • John

    “got schooled” – Tom, stop trying to be trendy

  • Anonymous

    My parents live in a city with poor public transportation options and I have talked with my mother on more than one occasion about having a “transportation plan”. Both of them have failing eyesight from injuries and surgeries. I’m nervous in the car with my mother and feel uncomfortable with her driving my children. She’s had several “fender benders”..mostly backing into objects rather than people, but still. She thinks she’s fine and that because she doesn’t drive over 35 miles per hour nothing bad can happen. Thoughts?

    Memphis, TN

  • Cyndy

    My husband and I have a friend who is 86 and had to give up driving last year after a non-car related accident caused him to lose a leg. He at first had his car outfitted with hand controls but could not learn how to use them and was playing Demolition Derby in his back yard and had some fender benders with the garage door. So he got the car fixed and sold it to us (at Blue Book value) as my husband was in need of a newer car. Now he takes taxis to appointments and friends, including us either bring him groceries or take him shopping. I know he hates losing his independence but is dealing fairly well with this.

  • naomi

    My 95-year-old grandma took her driving test in Illinois, and she had a difficult time even finding her insurance card. It took about 10 minutes at the counter to find it, and she barely passed her eye test. When it came time to take the driving test, I was certain she would fail, but she returned from the road test with a big smile. I have absolutely no idea how she managed to pass it, but the state of Illinois issued her another driver’s license for another year. She should not be on the road, and my mom (her daughter) won’t do the hard thing to take away her keys. She is a danger on the road and has no business driving.

    (Nashville, Tennessee)

  • http://neilvboyer@yahoo.com Neil Boyer

    I’m seventy years old. I should be tested at least every two years (in spite of the fact that I drive 30,000 per year in the process of making a living). Driving is not a right. The people with rights are the people I might injure or kill if I’m not competent. It’s unfortunate that the world is so terrified of being accused of age discrimination.

    Neil Boyer
    Amesbury Ma.

  • Annie Bell

    Five years ago my 32 year old husband was killed by an 87 year old elderly driver. They have made some dramatic changes in the way teenage drivers are licensed, and yet nothing has been done for the aging population. For starters, I wish Doctors would contact the DMV to have a lisc. revoked when necessary. I also feel re-road testing should begin at 75. Maybe taking a license is taking a lot from a person. But the woman who killed my husband took a lot more from me and the people who loved him.

  • Annie Bell

    Five years ago my 32 year old husband was killed by an 87 year old elderly driver. They have made some dramatic changes in the way teenage drivers are licensed, and yet nothing has been done for the aging population. For starters, I wish Doctors would contact the DMV to have a lisc. revoked when necessary. I also feel re-road testing should begin at 75. Maybe taking a license is taking a lot from a person. But the woman who killed my husband took a lot more from me and the people who loved him.

    _ from Wayland, MA

  • http://www.lazbrezer.com Laz Brezer

    If we’re going to discriminate on the basis of age, as a general rule, I’d get the hormone crazed, cell phoning & texting kids off the road before the “hormone challenged” aged ones -ask an actuary. I know too many people in their 70′s who are good and safe drivers. After 75… I don’t care how healthy a person is… there capacity to drive is diminished. Sorry hand in your licenses.

  • Ginger Carson

    Many years ago, at the checkout counter in a local chain grocery store, I stood for a time behind a stooped, elderly woman who was having difficulty finding the coin purse in her pocketbook. As I waited patiently (and then incredulously) I watched her take the coin purse, empty it onto the checkout counter and place her nose on the coins in order to attempt to count them. The clerk helped her to finally sort the coins and pay her bill. Instead of the next move, which I expected to be her getting into a friend’s car for the ride home, she slowly made her way to her own very large car, start it up and drive away! It should come as no surprise that I immediately decided to wait for about half an hour before getting into my own car, looking in every possible direction, and then proceeding slowly home.

  • Maggie Smith

    In rural areas with limited services, removing a car from an elderly person is the beginning of the end.

    Couldn’t we design and ‘elderly’ auto more in tune with the needs of an older body? Larger windshields, automatic speed caps. Automatic breaking if the car senses it’s near something? Automatic shut off it the car senses overly rough terrain (going over a curb?) It doesn’t matter if a 20 minute grocery run takes an hour. It matters that they can get to the grocery store.

  • Carolyn Stevens

    My elderly mother had an accident in her late 80s and was required to be re-tested. It was a difficult experience for her, but she was motivated to practice and basically re-learn to drive safely. She was re-tested, passed, and her license was renewed. Her driving improved markedly after that experience, though she did not drive as much after – she asked others to drive her where she needed to go -often they were not good drivers!

  • Binta Colley

    My nieces took my sisters keys away after she got lost and couldn’t remember where the car was. I agree with their decision because she was a danger to herself and others. However, taking the keys away from someone elderly is not as simple as it sounds.

    Being mobil is sometimes the only independence they have left, the only way they connect to the world outside of their home. If the keys are going to be taken, then family and friends have to rally to make sure that person has transportation and company and a connection to society.

  • Claire

    From Jamaica Plain MA.

    As hard as it is, families need to develop tools to address this issue directly with their loved ones. After my father in Colorado lost function on his right side, I persuaded him to give up his license by talking about the deadly risk he presented to his wife and other people. He immediately agreed.

    I have a written agreement with my daughter that gives her responsibility to bring the issue up with me when she thinks it’s appropriate.

  • http://notyet Charles A. Bowsher

    Guest is right about observation being important. I would suggest you not just ride with them, but also follow them without their knowledge (best behavior and all you know).

    To the professional drivers who called in, what do you think about the three rules I tell every new driver I meet.
    1)Don’t use your brakes
    3)Use your brains.

  • Ruby

    My 88-year-old father has dementia and eye disease and is clearly not fit to drive…in the past five years, he has backed into closed garage doors, almost run over a family member in a driveway, stopped dead in the middle of busy local roads, unsafe lane changes, etc. He had his license suspended — in our state this was accomplished by the doctor filing a form with the DMV, at our urging.

    He has been in assisted living for the past year, can read only with glasses and a magnifying glass yet still states that his eyesight is as good as his youngest son’s, and talks about finding a lawyer to fight the suspension and leaving his facility, going home and getting in the car. He says it doesn’t matter that his license is suspended, if he goes back home, the grocery store is only two miles away, so it won’t matter if he just goes there and back.

    In short, our experience is that our father absolutely cannot assess his own abilities. We know even if he does leave his facility and get home, we have the house keys and the car keys and the cars are sitting in the garage disabled. But his disease is talking and we have these endless circular conversations, which are both heartbreaking and infuriating.

  • Carolyn Stevens

    Northfield Vermont -

    My elderly mother had an accident in her late 80′s – was required to be re-tested. She was motivated to re-learn to drive safely, and as a result she practiced, was retested, and passed. Afterward, she was a markedly better driver but often would ask others to drive her in her car – and often they were worse drivers than she!

  • Bonnie Goodman, OTR, CDRS

    Certified Driver Rehabiltation Specialsts are professionals certified nationally who can evaluate the elderly’s driving skills through a clinical and in-car evaluation. They make recomendations as to a persons abilty to continue to drive and often can offer intervention and training to help them maintain their independence through driving. To locate a program near you contact ADED: The Assocaition for Driver Rehabilition Specialists.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    One of a half dozen movies I’ve seen, Sound of Music, has an example of how to stop someone from driving without having the keys: the Nazis chasing the Austrian officer and his family. The nuns disabled the car. That worked.

  • maureen richards

    How about a campaign to inform the public about the risks of letting that parent or friend continue to drive despite incompetence?
    Something along the lines of “we don’t let drunks drive, why would be let impaired people of any age drive.”
    Also – how could the Registry make it easier for people to “drop a dime” on their loved ones?
    I reported my husband who then lost his license. It was a wrenching experience. He never got over what he saw as a betrayal.
    p.s. he had parkinson’s and dementia

  • Dawn Richardson

    We should conduct written and road tests every 10 years.

  • Ellen Dibble in Northampton, MA

    If the car were simply FAR SLOWER and SMALLER, that would help a lot. We already have bike lanes. Where I live, seniors have golf-cart-type things that they use there ALREADY. Go for that.
    I can rent a Zip Car across the road if I have a distance to go.

  • Albert Atronicq

    How about a bit of courtesy from “able drivers” exercising some defensive driving when they realize that are around elderly drivers?
    How about “requiring” the car makers to create smaller models of cars “customized” to help the elderly drive safely maintain independent lives?

  • Matt Proser

    The problem of taking away the keys cannot be separated from the problem of public transportation. Where I live the bus passes by 8 times a day and the stops are very limited. Dial-a-ride is not sufficient because it requires a person to spend 2 or 3 hours doing what ordinarily would take half an hour. My town’s volunteer driver program is still being instituted. It’s taken 4 years so far! That’s a long time to wait for a lift. And one can’t keep on asking one’s friends or neighbors if one expects to have friends or friendly neighbors. I was brought up in the city and my sense of personal freedom would sufficiently massaged if I had reasonable resources provided by my community. But I don’t. People in rural or suburban settings simple need decent public alternatives or they have to drive as long as they possibly can. Or be condemned to go mad in the prison of one’s livingroom!

  • John

    There are two related but separate issues. Senior quality of life and public safety. Public safety has to be the priority. A senior who falls down with a tragic result doesn’t kill other people.

  • Michelle

    There are several large “box” type stores very popular with seniors, where they can shop and get most of their purchasing needs met. Why don’t these stores get proactive and offer shuttles and extend the hand of goodwill? If we wait for every major and minor city to get smart and offer better mass transit options, it will betoo late for many people. The companies profiting off this age group needs to see the mutual opportunities therein.

  • Rob (in NY)

    While I have no problem whatsoever requiring more frequent eyesight tests of older drivers, we need to be extremely careful not to simply single out elderly drivers as the younger and more aggressive drivers are the most dangerous using any fact based statistical analysis as Zeno noted above. A simple solution might be requiring eye exams as part of the driver’s license renewal process. Perhaps, every two years after a person reaches the age of 60 or whatever age where vision deteriorates faster. Another unrelated common sense reform might be to replace street and highway exit signs with larger and more visible wording. This can probably be done at minimal cost and as part of standard maintenance as street signs are replaced.

    As noted above, I am far more worried about these young morons who drive aggressively, particularly where there is a higher volume of pedestrians (e.g. residential streets, NYC avenues and streets) often at speeds in excess of 50 or 60mph where the speed limit is 30 mph. As an example, the NYC speed limit on non highways is 30 mph for a reason. The fact is that if a pedestrian is hit by a car traveling 40 m.p.h. or faster, there’s a 70% chance that a struck pedestrian will be killed; At 30 m.p.h., there’s an 80% chance that the pedestrian will live. The message to aggressive (e.g. younger) drivers should be that another person’s life is more valuable than 10 minutes of your precious day.


  • John

    How many of the seniors who live in rural and suburban communities always voted against expanding public transportation?

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    I believe England has an on-line ride-sharing system. It did about five years ago. It seemed to be flourishing, and I believe there was some government sponsorship involved.

    And where I live, someone tried to start such a thing, and I signed up I would like a ride from X to Y on Sunday morning, any week. And that was four years ago or so. No offers so far.

  • Maureen Russell

    My father-in-law is 96 years old. He lives in Manhattan and drives to and from Long Island every weekend from May to October. At present, he drives once or twice a week to New Jersey. He has vertigo, his vision is somewhat impaired and is quite deaf. His mobility is also impaired. We have told him in as kind a manner as possible that he is a danger to himself and others. He denies that he has a problem. If we were to take his keys it would do irreparable damage to the relationship with those involved. It is an impossible situation. There is an absolute need for testing.

  • Carol Siler

    Another thought other than accidents. My grandfather started getting lost … he was in early stages of Alzheimer’s and hid some of these problems from my mom and uncle – who did not live in the same town. He lived in a large city and would go to the mall to eat and couldn’t find his way back to his car…the mall cops found him wandering around the lot late at night, they got his driver’s license and started the process of contacting us. He could have ended up on the wrong side of town and been murdered. Anything could have happened to him, there are so many other dangers beyond accidents.

  • Dennis.in.Omaha

    Intelligence testing for older drivers?


    To test logic, ask:

    T/F Tax breaks for corporations make it easier for the government to pay for Medicare and Social Security.

    To test emotional quotient:

    T/F We should go to war with Yemen when we find a terrorist cell hiding there.

    To test for intuition:

    T/F It makes sense for large gas guzzlers to have a yellow ribbon to support the troops.

    To test for perspective:

    T/F Illegal immigrants are taking the jobs that are moving overseas.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    John. Rural and suburban communities/public transportation.
    This is much on my mind. Where I live, gentrification has set in, and apartments are costly. It’s at the top of the charts for retirees who can live close to all sorts of attractions, within an easy walk. However, I look to move out into the hills someday when I don’t need to be so central for business reasons. Unfortunately, there are not apartment buildings in the boonies. A few senior housing complexes have evolved, trying to attract wealthy retirees. But tenants are not seen as desirables, and thus, designing a centralized, walkable little hilltown village does not transpire. For that matter, broadband doesn’t transpire either. But I’m pretty sure this will happen. Some cute apartment will open up. And I’ll pay $50 every few weeks for a taxi to town and back. That or hope they’ll design not just a Smart car but what I’ll call a Genius car. Mite size. We’ll see.

  • Thomas Spero

    I just had this experience with my father. 93 years old and one eye and he did not want to give up his licence and car. His lawyer actually told his doctor not to say anything to the registry or he (the doctor) could get sued. he got his licence renewal in the mail and forgot that it was on the kitchen table. Started driving without a licence because it expired. He never knew! An old friend of his (91yrs old) came over one day and saw the mail on the table and asked my father if he had gotten the licence renewed and offered to take my father to AAA. Her they went both of them 93 (one eye) and 91 and walked in to AAA and got the eye test and out the door with the renewal. My sisters knew that his licence renewal had come in the mail but we were all of the opinion that we COULD not take him fro his renewal!!!
    Interesting enough I friends in Italy and they were going through the same thing. Their father had dementia.
    I called and asked my friend Lorenza how she managed to stop her father from driving because I knew that he was a tough old guy. She said it was easy over ther because the doctores are REQUIRED by law to notify the registry of any imapairment to driving. Keep in mind they have socialized medecine and everyone works for the state. So simple!!!
    Tom Spero

  • http://notyet Charles A. Bowsher

    Ruby @ 10:51, November 17th, 2010

    My father passed away three years ago after having suffered with dementia for four or more years.

    I hope our experience will aid you, your family members and your father if you are able to realize that your father no longer has the same memory and cognitive abilities you do. What this translated to in my family is that it took months and months before I was able to get my well-meaning but somewhat clueless brother to realize that it was better for our fathers heart and spirit to be told that “Mom wasn’t here now”, instead of “Mom died”. With the dementia he accepted she wasn’t there and didn’t have to go through the grieving all over again.

    Remember how much they loved you, be patient with them, be patient with yourself, get some relief every once in while and remember to laugh. You are in my prayers.

  • Rob (in NY)

    Dennis in Omaha, Perhaps you can give your liberal political rants a rest for the day as your post as nothing to do with today’s discussion topic.

  • Dennis.in.Omaha

    Hi Rob in NY.

    Sorry, I couldn’t help it. We talk about politics alot here.

  • Beverly


    What an excellent idea! I’d like one of those vehicles myself.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Beverly, as far as I can tell, the resistance to the Genius car is the American car companies who think they can’t make a profit on something designed for such efficiency. And probably the NTSB doesn’t like to think in terms of LESS powerful and LESS fast. Bicycles are enough of a problem in terms of city planning. (Devil’s advocate here.) If every other person was using a mite-sized vehicle, whether speedy or more 19th century in energy, the roadways would have to adjust.
    IMO infrastructure should start to reflect that. We should be living nearer to things we need. We shouldn’t ALL have to zip around at 65-mph. And older people won’t be blasting through the side of this house and that business if they are driving the butterfly-equivalent vehicle.
    Choices like that are available in Japan, where people will stuff a microvehicle in the trunk of a larger vehicle, and use the micro auto when it serves. I believe India is building and selling that sort of vehicle, because the idea is Indians can’t afford anything more — and because Indian city streets are so crowded, with sacred cows and milling masses, that no one wants to go faster than a reasonable speed.
    But if everybody had a car that went a third as fast and cost a third as much, wouldn’t Ford go out of business?

  • Rob (in NY)

    Ruby at 10:51AM and Charles at 11:10AM,

    My family had a similar experiences with my grandparents and most recently my grandmother, who is in her late 90s and has alzeheimer/dementia. She was an independent women and insisted on driving for a time. We told her that she failed the vision test and the state would not renew her license. While she occasionally asks for her car keys, we change the topic and she quickly forgets. She also frequently asks where her husband is and whether he is still at work (e.g. he passed away at the age of 82 about 20 years) ago. While it is painful, we simply say he is not here at the moment to avoid the inevitable breakdown if we were to mention the fact that he passed away 20 years ago. I agree with Charles and the key is to remember the good times and that is the disease making life difficult as opposed to your father. My grandmother was physically healthy into her mid 90s, which made the illness more difficult.

    Another thing my family did to manage the pain is to split responsibilties among all family members who were adults. We were fortunate to have a larger family (e.g. 4 children, 12 adult grandchildren), but this certainly helped.

  • Rob (in NY)

    Hi Dennis in Omaha,

    I was being sarcastic and just busting on you. I enjoy our political debates. By the way, I think you violated one of your own earlier discussion guideline rules with the reference to “illegal” immigrants. I have no problem using the word illegal, although I harbor no ill will towards the majority of law abiding illegal immigrants. I freely admit that I would probably break US immigration laws to support my family if I were living in Mexico where this is little economic opportunity.

  • LIZ

    Our society can’t agree on anything. Each faction desperately defends its own interests. Shame on us!

    I tried to find a solution for my father after his wife died – instead of adding insult to injury. Funeral on one day, license renewal the next? I couldn’t do it. Pressure came from all sides to make him a prisoner in his own home. I couldn’t do that either. I was damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

    Yes, I failed him.

    Unless we ALL switch to safer transporation, I think we can kiss goodbye to elder “independence”…

  • ThresherK

    Liberal politics has nothing to do “taking the keys”?

    Hey, the lefties are the ones who have brought up the intersection of livability, walkability, and the convenience some people would enjoy of getting somewhere without having to drive 5 miles one way, on the only road, or through residential neighborhoods. And, yes, subsidizing the external costs of building suburbia and autodom plays into this in a big way. Just go back to any David Brooks column celebrating “Patio Man” and “Realtor Woman” in those now-bankrupt, now-decaying, never-paid-for, foreclosed-upon exurbs to find out what passes for conventional wisdom.

    Automobiles = independence, right up to the point we become too dependent on them, and we’ve passed that point ages ago.

    (PS Didn’t hear the complete show. Disclaimer: I don’t have kids. Any evidence of the effect of gradiated licensing of young drivers on accident rates I hope will be addressed in the podcast. Any idea of how to do that, in reverse, for elder drivers?)

  • John P.

    Posit Science has developed a brain training program for drivers called Drive Sharp. Perhaps this type of science-based training should be required in the same way that traffic school is required when driving skills come in doubt.


  • TonyS.

    Listening on ksfc – Spokane, WA

    No one in my family likes driving with my grandfather, because he is a reckless driver with poor vision. He is Hispanic. I’ve read about cultural barriers when it comes to preventative medicine, specifically that Hispanics have difficulty following such practices. Should we be looking at the culteral differances with our elderly drivers, and self regulation?

  • Julie Dunn

    This problem needs to be approached from more than one angle. First, I think we need better screening for ALL drivers, regardless of age. I won’t bother to add any more distracted/rotten driver horror stories; we all have too many.
    Second, we need to get serious about providing transportation alternatives for those who do not drive. This is an issue in the city as well as suburban and rural areas: Older people who stop driving usually do so becasue of frailty or health issues, and public transportation (when it exisits) is not friendly to these folks. Escalators don’t work, there might be long waits for busses in bad weather, and I have spoken to older people who avoid the T because they are afraid of being shoved or knocked down by younger people in a hurry to get past those who need extra time walking or climbing stairs. This is both an infrastucture and a civility issue. Not sure what to do about the latter, and I get very depressed each time I read of another public transportation project cancelled due to short-sighted cost-cutting. We will only pay more later, in insurance costs, medical care, and misery, if we do not provide viable alternatives to driving.

  • Charlotte, Columbus, OH

    One partial solution to the problem of unfit drivers at any age would be a truly comprehensive public transit system in densely populated states. Here in Ohio we could have had state-of-the-art passenger rail linking Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati had our lame duck governor been savvy about funding and selling it or our governor-elect less intent on resolutely leading Ohio into the 19th century. For the present we are forced to hope for public bus transit 24/7/365 in the state capitol in the very state that gave the world the Wright Brothers, John Glen, and Neil Armstrong.

    The salient question is not how and when to screen out unfit drivers when there are no viable alternatives for them to live their lives without driving. The real question is how to promote, build, and maintain public transit (short haul, medium haul, and long haul) that will make it not only possible but preferrable to forgo driving for most people at least some of the time throughout their lives.

    It’s not rocket science, it’s surface transit technology. State-of-the-art rail transit could have been a stimulus package expenditure that would have brought real benefits to Ohio but for the lack of vision afflicting both major political parties in Ohio. But then the only thing either of them is capable of engineering these days is attack ads financed by unknown sponsors.

    Ohio as a bell weather state? Wear your crash helmets, dearies, because being side-swiped is the least you’re in for.

  • Zeno

    Behind my family home back in VT, there is a old RR bed for a old narrow gauge commuter trolley, that used to exist before the great GM rip em’ all up project.

    It it interesting to note that it was an electric trolley, that used to charge itself up on the way down to the neighboring town (appx. 20 miles) and then use that energy to return. I believe that water power from a nearby stream replaced losses.

    Apparently, the wisdom of out forefathers once ripped from the landscape by corporate greed is irreplaceable, I’m not certain why this is true…

  • Drew

    My dad is pushing 70. He has his competition driving license. I’ve raced him on track and he’s quick. Real quick. Some people can hold it together, some can’t. There should be an every 2 year thing after 70…my dad thinks it, I think it.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Say you have an 88-year-old woman who runs over a 4-year-old at noontime in an inexplicable manner. As I recall, this sort of thing has happened in my valley. And if she were found to have been driving negligently, inattentively, suffering a “senior moment,” does she then get sent to prison for 20 years? Does she get the Bernie Madoff treatment? She can cause as much damage as a 17-year-old who had too much to drink, but in her case it’s harder to lay blame.
    But I do contend that there are not a lot of ways senior citizens can be so terribly destructive, unintentionally so. And it’s not so obvious how to hold them accountable. If they drive with company, as one of the guests today said, those individuals can size up the situation. I still prefer the option of creating less destructive vehicles. Butterfly vehicles. Someone will argue an individual can get creamed unless driving in the tank-like hulk of modern autos. I will argue, why do you allow us to flit around on bicycles then? Shouldn’t there be various alternatives between those extremes? I would rather be killed than kill, a total no-brainer. Especially if I’m 88 years old, I’d rather have the butterfly vehicle and risk no one’s life but my own.

  • http://NPR Glenda

    My Dad was diabetic and after he lost sight in one eye continued to drive himself to dialysis appointments 25 minutes away, in another town. His attitude was that the other drivers could see him coming and get out of the way. We found out his license was about to expire, and decided that he probably would not be able to renew it with one eye and our problem would be solved. We were quite surprised when his local Mississippi station renewed his license without any limitations. He continued to drive until one morning when he started out for his dialysis appointment and could not see the road—he came in and gave the keys to my Mom and stopped driving. I am not sure more testing will be helpful, unless it is more stringent and enforced nationwide. We need better mass transportation so the elderly can a least get to grocery stores.

  • http://www.runandgetit.com/ Steve Parsons

    Here’s one way to provide transportation for elderly …check out the RunAndGetIt Share-Cost Networks system.

    Offer rides to some of your favorite elderly riders in your area !

    It’s free, fun , …and helps folks in your community.

  • Ruby

    Thank you, folks, for the kind words.

    We quickly learned when we needed to just let my dad talk and not try to reason or argue with him, as it was futile and ended up with everyone feeling agitated. We also learned that at times he says things only to try to stir up a reaction in us or to pit one sibling vs. another.

    Again, the disease of dementia talking.

    However, after being in the car with him behind the wheel as recently as 18 months ago, I was scared for my own safety but more importantly, the safety of other motorists and pedestrians. In the space of a few minutes, he almost hit someone in a crosswalk and then stopped suddenly in the middle of a busy local road because he forgot something at home, and we were almost rear-ended by a car going at least 35mph. His eyesight was failing and worse, his judgment was severely impaired.

    The family sought help from his doctor who filed the form with the NY State DMV to get his license suspended. I’m sorry he is hurt by this, but I do not feel guilty one bit, I would rather him be angry at the family than guilty of killing himself or others in a tragic accident. I am convinced it was only a matter of time before something very bad happened.

  • Roberto

    Tranportation alternatives are a must! As Mr. Highways talks about enforcing annual or whatever tests, hope is planning the taxes to support all those RMV staff, machines, troopers AND more transit… RIDE is overtaxed and getting worse, weekly. Most towns have no courtesy vans for elderly. Family are too dispersed. On it goes — our society has planned very poorly.

    If middle age children are not discussing with aging parents ideal locations for retirement — with transportation, health care as high on the list as fun and style, you are just as guilty as the parent who does not want to yield his/her keys. Go look at AARP stats on aging trends and you will see THEY are thinking about it. Now get families to really figure this out. Things like Church driving pools and FISH vans are falling down trying to keep up.

  • Roberto

    Charlotte, Zeno et al — now reading second half of comments; you all get it!

    Ellen D — Sorry, this is going to sound nasty, I know but surely SOMEone could fit Dear Mother into their travel (and social?) plans, some how?! If that is truly impossible, I have a suggestion: hire a known, good driver to bring her (in her car if that works) to the home she will stay for holidays. If one of her kids cannot drive her back, how about a grandchild accompanying her on the bus/train? There is evidently enough gas money among her children they can chip in for the costs to get Mom some company for holidays??

    Again, sorry in advance; am sure I know far too little, but that just sounds tragic she will be alone b/c family could not figure this out…

  • Paul Chenard

    We need to realize that we have built our cities in the wrong way in this country, and we are now starting to see this issue manifest itself in multiply ways such as older drivers not being able to drive. We need to rethink how we build our cities and move away from suburban style development. If we had more walkable cities and better public transportation our elderly could live independent lives without driving. Thank you.


  • Bush’s fault

    Young drivers are dangerous, old people have the money.

    Game over.

  • Katie

    Better public transportation would make a huge difference in ensuring people stay mobile and connected when they can no longer drive.

  • Roberto

    Paul — so true. but that is not going to change overnight. What we can do s/t is loosen up zoning and planning boards for more dense develop in the heart of suburban towns. Many communities have allowed McMansionization to gut the smaller abode inventory, and (God Forbid) put the nix on apartment complexes, condo villages or other space-efficient development which is tailored to older residents. We need to make those changes quickly — so long time residents can stay in their home community longer without the physical and financial burdens of large homes no longer needed by older singles or couples.

    And our generation (my parents are late 80s) need to take the lead on helping guide our parents to move into residential/graduate care facilities, or at very leat be closer to us (or us to them!), or knit together a quilt of services and support if they refuse. That is our job. Hopefully government planners and social services leaders will assist us with good transportation options…

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Roberto, thank you for your concern. Let me state that I’ve figured out sometimes I have things to say that no one else with time and computer to do so can actually put on the table. So I might be speaking for parts of fractured families that are, as you say, not what existed in the olden days. No Norman Rockwell situation coast to coast.
    I began this year by inviting everybody to a cavernous restaurant here, me being somewhat in the middle, sort of, of the wider family, at a natural meeting spot of sorts, and more and more so as time goes by. When I figured out my mother was going to be left behind, I inquired all around, and nobody answered. I am not in a position to visit her myself, by a long stretch, but I will surely invite everybody again near Christmastime. I do that every occasion, and everybody begs off. Maybe we really don’t like being together, you know? And maybe there is something I am not being told about my mother, most likely that she is taking herself to her child in Pennsylvania or to her child in California, or maybe she is deathly ill. In my family, people don’t convey these things. I just try to keep all possible doors open. I don’t even know who can afford to travel at this point. For a long time, people were saying they couldn’t get together because they had little children, or when they did get together, it was only families with children who were welcome. Now that the children are grown, there needs to be another set of “stories” to explain the holiday vanishing acts. I try to stay positive. Sometimes I think because I’m the Big Sister, I’m supposed to be left hanging, feeling anxious about this one or that, because the Big Sister was in some way always turned to, expected to fix everything, and that pattern sticks forever, and believe me, I fail.
    How dare I say this? I sweat it out. I belong more to a displaced virtual family than my real one, it seems. And holidays bring huge stressors for many families, I’m sure.
    People pretend that the Victorian model still exists. They think this is the cue to pretend. Some of us do, over and over, like Sisyphus, and break our hearts into little crumbles. Do you know the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home, I’m not in Kansas anymore”? For children, that is so. Old people, with friends and close relations dying every year, have to be able to make new and meaningful relationships, and new rituals, especially with the economy falling apart around us. So I’m trying to imagine what my mother may be doing, and I’m thinking she probably gets on a plane. And I’m thinking what a cop-out.

  • Timothy Ray

    This obsession with elderly drivers reflects aging, which is prejudice against older persons. The data indicate that it is the teenage drivers who really constitute the danger on the roads. Older drivers do not text, or sext, while driving. They aren’t mentally in the home of their friend with a cell phone. The truth is that young and middle aged drivers are zooming around corners at excessive speed while chatting, eating, or otherwise absorbed, while the senior citizens are paying attention and turning carefully. It is the careless behavior of the young and middle aged drivers who create danger by not slowing down to the speed limit that we seniors are usually adhering to. Stop obsessing about how to humanely take my license away. Pay attention and stop running into law abiding seniors.

  • Karen

    I could relate several horror stories about my life being endangered by the poor judgement of older drivers, but here’s the summary: four of the five dangerous drivers I have encountered in recent years were over 65 (the fifth was a middle-aged man on a cell phone). Driving while drunk or on drugs, or while using a cell phone, is illegal in most jurisdictions; driving while impaired by dementia is not.

    Ten percent of all Americans over 65 have Alzheimer’s (source: Alzheimer’s Association). By definition, those who suffer from that disease lack the judgement to give up driving on their own. Some kind of periodic testing of older drivers for reflexes and mental capacity should be instituted for the safety of us all.

  • http://notyet Charles A. Bowsher , Lexington, KY

    Rob @ 11:45 You said “I have no problem using the word illegal, although I harbor no ill will towards the majority of law abiding illegal immigrants.”

    I know it may be splitting hairs but I wince uncontrollably every time I hear someone refer to an illegal immigrant as “law-abiding”. It is simply not true. They have broken the law coming here so that should not be glossed over. We need to fix our system so that they can be here in the open and not illegally. I am typically a kind-hearted person, in favor of others bettering themselves, but immigration is my Achilles heel if you will. It seems to me that any illegal immigrant who is not willing to come out of the shadows and stand in line is continually breaking the law. Our immigration system sucks and it is obvious that congress is incapable of fixing it.

    I keep wishing I could yell “Shenannigans!” like the kids do in Southpark and get the adults (I’m 54!) to straighten up and fly right! “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”.

    John P. @12:41 I went to the site and had a great time with the first test (2 out of 5 {not so good) but I got 48 out of 62). Thanks. I bookmarked it for later. I highly recommend it to anyone else.
    Posted by John P., on November 17th, 2010 at 12:41 PM

  • http://notyet Charles A. Bowsher , Lexington, KY

    Ellen- I give you this from “Illusions” by Richard D. Bach
    “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”

    When it comes to the people who grew up under the same roof as you, Love them as well as you are able. Know that your true family (pick me! pick me!) loves you and marvels at all you do, say and think. charles

  • Brett

    Better roads and more public transportation! More communities designed to promote walking/riding public transportation!

    I contracted a virus in my eyes about ten or so years ago. Very quickly I lost about 35% of my peripheral vision, had damage to the optic nerve in one eye, lost considerable depth perception and developed fast-growing cataracts (as well as secondary cataracts after the initial surgeries). I also developed glaucoma, for which I take medication. I went from 20/10 vision in each eye to 20/200 in one and 20/400 in the other within a very short period of time…after cataract surgery and surgery to repair optic nerve damage (which, the latter had limited results), my eyes corrected, with glasses, to 20/30 in one and close to 20/20 in the other, thankfully. I put away my car keys for about six months during the ordeal.

    I now drive sparingly, and my depth perception has improved, as I have re-learned to perceive depth. I don’t drive at night, as I have issues with perceiving light and shadow properly within that context, as well as have trouble seeing street lamps, headlights, etc., without an annoying array of halos and beams of refracted light coming from them. The only negotiation is that I perform music for money and need to get from place to place at night. I usually have one of my accompanists (usually violin, mandolin or second guitar players) drive to gigs. I drive my truck to do local landscaping jobs during the season (although I try to get one of my workers to do the driving). I teach music in my home. If I go to jam somewhere, I get someone else to pick me up. Otherwise, I only drive to the grocery store (four miles away and in 25MPH zones the whole way) and walk to the pharmacy (about two or so miles away). I also walk to the farmers’ market, which is about a mile away. My friends who have farms bring me eggs, yogurt and cheeses made from goats’ milk, as well as the occasional organic chicken, etc.; I feel fortunate in that respect. Unfortunately, I do have to drive to our local CSA. Our community garden is in my neighborhood. I work in a MH group home during the day on weekends (walking distance). I either take the train (I love trains) or fly if I have to travel far away. This is how I cope. I gave up riding a bike outside of bike paths long ago, as my limitations become magnified on a bike.

    If I ever in future feel I am a driving danger to myself or others, I will gladly forgo any driving whatsoever. I don’t really care for driving—didn’t care for it before my vision changed.

    I’ve learned more to rely on others and to embrace my community; and, actually, the whole experience (limitations in the amount of time I can read without extreme eye strain notwithstanding) has overall been a positive one. I am also glad that I live in the times that I do; if I had lived a hundred years ago, I would be blind now.

    My parents are in their mid-eighties, and the issue has moved more into the foreground for them. They have been smart about their limitations, though; they don’t drive at night, they don’t take long trips, and they stay away from interstates. We have had some discussions about the “if” and when of the whole matter. I try to emphasize how keeping relationships well oiled within their community will make the transition into non-driving a much more fluid one. They seem to think this is a reasonable approach, and they’ve seen how I cope with my own issues with driving. Still, there will come a time when they will have to hang up their car keys for good, and I hope I can continue to encourage smart self-monitoring and proactive strategizing in preparation for that time. They are fiercely independent in many ways, and I admire that in them, but I also emphasize to them how independence can mean utilizing others to assist in certain ways. (I can’t cut my own hair, but it doesn’t mean I am not independent because I get a hairstylist to do that for me, that sort of thinking.) Their health has deteriorated in the past two years, but their conditions, thankfully, don’t affect things like coordination and vision. My mom has to travel about 20 miles each way to receive treatment for cancer; my father has to travel about 3 miles each way to receive rehab from hip replacement and recovery from heart bypass surgery. They seem to still drive well, but I would like them to employ their friends and neighbors more…

    P.S.–No one has the right-of-way, really, only the power to yield the right-of-way. This is a good way to think about driving defensively.

  • http://victorials.wordpress.com Victoria

    I’ve never had a car, am over 40; I bike, and depend on living somewhere with public transportation, which outside of major urban centers is limited, if not non-existent.
    I totally feel the lack of freedom without a car. But I also see so clearly how dependent our culture is on cars.
    It’s not just about old people losing their independence.
    And what about older people who have no families to drive them anywhere?
    If we just increased our commitment to public transportation, we’d solve so many problems.

  • http://victorials.wordpress.com Victoria

    not to mention: hey, do we need to drive faster than 50 mph? if we all slowed down a bit we’d have way fewer accidents.
    And as for tests: as a biker I’d like to suggest ALL drivers need tests every 5 years! How many reckless drivers who can’t even remember stuff like look both ways, etc. have I almost been hit by?

  • Liz

    Maggie Smith wrote:
    “In rural areas with limited services, removing a car from an elderly person is the beginning of the end.”

    Exactly, exactly! and in semi-rural suburbs as well. My father believed he’d starve to death without his car. The shock was too much – his wife had just died – and he became physically ill. Then the hospital forced a diagnosis of dementia on him.

    Sometimes there are just no alternatives, and if the driver has a safe record, they should be allowed to continue (with appropriate testing).

    • Gloria Doan

      Maybe we older people need to face some realities about ourselves, and not be so self pitying. I am older and without a car and really don’t want one any more except when the weather is bad and I can’t get out to get groceries..but that just means I have to plan ahead. In my walking about, I have almost been runover by older people who do not see me, hear me, and seem to think they are the only ones with the right of way. I have ridden with an older sister who is oblivious to others on the road and it scares me to death. I also believe that cities and towns could do more to accommodate older walkers by having longer crossing times at intersections. But afterall, a car is not God or the self, so maybe we should get some perspective on it all. I woudl like to see more trains and more comfortabel buses for us, and then for us elders to get a little more adventuresome and not be so hung up on our independence., We ARE going to lose it little by little and we have to adjust to that.
      I was in an AARP class once and was scared to death by the 80 and 90 years old who were still driving. The class was very, very easy, too.


  • Slipstream

    The chairperson of the NTSB is, it seems, a woman, and yet she calls herself a chairMAN. Why is that? At least Tom made reference to this absurdity while talking with her. What is wrong with being a chair, or a chairwoman, or a chairperson? She may want to be a man, but that will most likely not happen.

  • Ishmael

    When the country as a generalized whole is sadistic enough to extol “individualism” and “my car” in preference to collective, easily available, cheap public transportation (as is evident in most parts of the civilized world), then it is easy to see that the “everyone has a right to a house” mentality that brought down the economy remains in thrall (substituting “car/drive”, of course).

    Noted in this piece: When are people going to realize that ubiquitously available public transportation is far, far more important than people’s privately owned vehicles? If you are going to limit driving privileges then you have to provide public alternatives and not depend solely on family and friends. Regardless of geographic location, and regardless of how much effort it will take to finally enter the 21st century.

  • Ellen Dibble in Northampton, MA

    Noted from decades of getting around by bicycle: “offering rides” obtains almost universally only among the “pool” of car-owning individuals. If you have a car, and that car is dysfunctional, someone will offer you a ride. If you don’t have a car, then obviously you have other ways of getting around and we won’t consider you a part of the pool.
    To me, this is sensible, but there should be intermediate means of transportation. There is walking (4 miles an hour), bicycling (about 16 miles an hour), and in icy, snowy, windy weather, there should be microvehicles that can protect you somewhat and chug along with some assist in power.

    Motorcycles are something along the lines I am thinking (they probably coopted the “place” for intermediate vehicles altogether, actually), but they are far more powerful than necessary.
    Pound for pound, motorcycles are not worth it; I’m not sure they are all that much safer than actual automobiles, because they still go too fast. If one fell over on an 80-year-old individual, they would probably crush said individual. No accident necessary.

  • http://www.ridersontheroad.com Patricia Rider Bermon

    Sorry I’ve missed most of you since I had to leave the car before the end of the broadcast on Wednesday and just now had a chance to listen to the rest online. But I’d like to share some advice that I was surprised didn’t come up more prominently either in the broadcast or previous comments.

    Clearly this is a complex issue with no sure fire solution that works for everyone, but there is one simple step older drivers can easily take that is designed to improve their chances of staying safe on the road, and to help them identify signs that it may be time to give up the car keys: a safe driving refresher course with a focus on recognizing and adapting to the physical changes that come with age, in addition to the latest in safe driving techniques and strategies. The AARP Driver Safety Program offers such classes either online or in a classroom setting. You can check it out at http://www.aarp.org/drive.

  • Pat

    My 90 something year old father-in-law refused to stop driving reluctantly even after he and his wife were involved in a collision. He has lost his hearing and refuses to wear a hearing aid which nearly cost him and his wife their lives. He literally didn’t hear cars honking at him at a very busy intersection.

    After the keys were taken from him and his car was “sold” to a grandchild, he sunk into a depression because he had no freedom. The car provided a daily escape from a reclusive existence. Mind you, he only drove to the supermarket about half a mile from home, but he was nevertheless a danger because he couldn’t hear.

    Today’s driving environment–texting, cellphones, and distracted drivers all make for a very dangerous trip. No matter who’s doing the driving.

  • Sy2502

    Two comments: first, it’s undeniable that reflexes slow down with age. Maybe an elderly person doesn’t cause an accident, but is probably much less likely to react in time to avoid an accident in the making. Second, we should have some statistics on how many accidents were caused by people trying to get around an elderly driver going 10mph below the limit, in the fast lane. 

  • William Schiff, Ph.D

    As an “older driver” and older driver traffic safety researcher. I
    concur (with stipulations re functionally valid tests!) with
    Senator Joyce. See: Growing Up & Getting Old Behind the Wheel: An American Auto Biography.” (Amazon, B&N, & countless others.)

  • wigglebug


  • http://www.facebook.com/script.by.sw Seth Wittner


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