November 01, 2016

Senior Driving

Edward W. Madeira Jr.

Why devote an issue of Experience to elder driving? The idea arose during a discussion concerning a report of a serious accident involving an elderly driver who, because of failing eyesight, shouldn’t have been allowed behind the wheel. The same questions are asked over and over again: “Why aren’t there laws that get people like that off the road?” “Why aren’t there laws that require retesting at certain advance ages?” “Why do different state laws vary so much?” “Shouldn’t we have uniform state laws that protect us from elderly impaired?”

Several of us of advanced, or at least advancing, age agree that unsafe drivers of all ages should not be on the road. This is not to say that all those belonging to the advanced age group should relinquish their licenses, as there are many unimpaired seniors in their seventies and eighties with very safe driving records. Therefore, chronological age is not the pivot. We are a very mobile society and the state-granted license to drive, which legally is a privilege, is commonly considered a right that is dear to us. How can we balance that line of thought while also seeing that unsafe drivers are off the road and safe ones continue to operate their cars?

A few of us, primarily the contributors to this edition, looked deeper to discover multiple issues and challenges, and were pleased to find a bounty of resources of thoughtful information dedicated to the challenge, both governmental and private. These include:

  • American Automobile Association
  • American Association of Retired Persons
  • American Medical Association
  • American Occupational Therapy Association
  • American Society on Aging
  • Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Federal Highway Administration
  • Governors Highway Safety Association
  • The Hartford Insurance Co.
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
  • Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • National Judicial College
  • National Safety Council
  • State Departments of Motor Vehicles
  • U.S. Census Bureau
  • U.S. Department of Transportation

Our contributors drew heavily on these materials and, as the titles of their articles suggest, have attempted to describe the issues that make up the challenges and to describe alternatives. We share our views in the following six articles, as supplemented by one state-by-state chart listing licensing requirements for renewal and retesting.

Many elder drivers will be in denial when told their driving days are over or coming to a close, and the psychological impact can be great. “I no longer drive at night . . .” and “I only drive to the store . . .” are frequent excuses. Families can have a frustrating time counseling a resistant parent and the family physician, the logical intervener, is frequently reluctant. Included in the third article of this issue is the theme for a “family meeting” to deal with a parent in denial. But there are other eyes and ears, not the least of which can be a traffic court judge faced with an elder driver with multiple fender bender accidents. Frequently, the family lawyer has been called upon to intercede, but as with the family physician, this can be awkward, potentially interfering with the professional relationship with the parent.

There are several readily available safe driving programs throughout the country and even programs that can provide a modest redesign of an individual’s car to make it safer for the driver. (See the discussion on Car Fit, created by the American Society on Aging in the sixth article of this issue.)

The technological advances in improving car safety have been and continue to be most impressive. One of our articles discusses these advances as well as describes the autonomous driverless car, and how such a car will impact elder drivers.

When the time has come to stop driving, the practical challenge is to find the best alternative form of affordable transportation that will ease, if not eliminate, the impact of loss of freedom and independence. There are, fortunately, a broad range of alternatives being developed to meet the growing needs.

The contributors and I acknowledge the substantial efforts of MaryBeth Sia, a paralegal at Pepper Hamilton, for her thoughtful contributions to this issue on senior driving.

Edward W. Madeira Jr.

Edward W. Madeira Jr. is chair emeritus and senior counsel at Pepper Hamilton LLP in Philadelphia. Long active in efforts to improve the justice system and address the court funding crisis, Madeira is known, in part, for his work on behalf of the ABA’s Task Force on Preservation of the Justice System, Standing Committee on Judicial Independence, and Standing Committee on Federal Judicial Improvements.